Clearing tabs

September 9, 2013

Sometimes I come across useful, interesting, our just plain cool pages, and these tend to accumulate in open tabs in my browser. Here’s hoping that writing about them is enough of a digestive process to close some out.

Get My FBI file which sounds interesting, but does asking for one put you on a list? Does mentioning this link in a weblog??

Literary analysis: 26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss and an ridiculously close read thereof.

The Best Life Advice I’ve ever heard – Amy Sundberg.

Flytrap Kickstarter, more good stuff from Tim Pratt

Rahul Kanakia’s blog is brilliantly written, and reveals a side to him I never experienced even after being in a writing group with him for months. Lots of good advice, and the tone is exactly the same as sitting across from him at a table. I wish I could blog like this.

Story notes on You Have to Follow the Rules, as recently seen/heard on Strange Horizons. (also SH fund drive)

How to write a novel synopsis also this

Thought Verbs by Chuck Palahniuk

and because I’m always looking for it, a link to Finding Source Code on the Web for Remix and Reuse, in which my fiction appears as the closing chapter.


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Messy Desk Report for August 2013

September 1, 2013

Something incredible happened–I cleaned my desk. Then I changed ISPs [good riddance AT&T], in the process locating the domestic NOC into my office, and moving stuff around for the installer guy. Net result: pretty much a wash.

Maybe even a bit worse. I see in front of me notes for four different revisions of the story I had critted at FOGCon this year. I think I’ve finally got it. I see Story Physics by Larry Brooks. I see an awfully large amount of yellow sticky notes.

The main enemy is tiredness, which is probably connected with my involuntary break from running. And crushing work schedules. Despite this, I still have two new stories nearly ready to go out. Another is ready to start hitting the reprint circuit. My contest story got a nice nod from non-fiction editor Simon St. Laurent.

Despite giving up on the WriteAboutDragons replay class, Some good stuff came out of it. And I’ve got another few ideas just bubbling to the surface as stories.

Best advice for the month: get enough sleep.

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Some constructive criticism for Write About Dragons

August 20, 2013

Scott Ashton over at WriteAboutDragons had a wonderful idea: as part of his Masters project in Instructional Technology, he’s posting lectures from a writing class taught by Brandon Sanderson at BYU. Hundreds, nay, thousands of people are following along week-by-week, as well as writing their own fiction and sharing it for critique. I wish more people would set up sites like this.

But I’m not able to continue with the class. Here’s why:

  • The website lacks basic functions like search. (A third party has come the the partial rescue by writing a crawler, but it doesn’t see all the stories, and is really limited. I can’t see this search tool linked from the main site–which leads to the next bullet…)
  • The site navigation is not useful. For example, as I write this, under the Learn header is the FAQ and Lecture 1 and archives of a previous year’s lectures. There’s no sign of lectures 2-7, for which links you need to closely follow the site’s blog. When the videos do post, they are often out of order, have long titles so you can’t see the ‘part 6 of 9′ tags. As I write this, all of the week 7 lectures are marked as ‘private’ and completely unviewable. It’s hard enough to carve out time to view these lectures, and this added element of unpredictability makes it that much harder.
  • Scott seems unimaginably busy, and doesn’t fix problems quickly (or in many cases, at all). The comment sections in the blog often turn into giant complaint-fests.
  • The ‘kismet’/karma/reputation system is confusing and apparently broken. On the same page, it reports me as having “30 reputation”, “50 kismet credits” as well as describing me as “Freshly ripened wheat” (huh?) I have no idea what any of these mean, or even what they’re talking about. The pages ask me to cash in some of my credits to see critiques, and yet I never need to because every critique gets mailed directly to me anyway. Incentives are completely broken, and accordingly participation is dropping week after week.
  • The critiques are of a suggested size of about 1000 words. This is partly due to following Brandon’s own suggestions in the class, but there are different constraints in a face-to-face group of 3 or 4 people consistently meeting week after week versus an online system where random pairings are more common. It’s hard to give a good critique of the 7th 1000-word chunk of someone else’s novel. It’s hard to find the previous pieces, and even if you do, it’s time consuming to read that much, just to critique the next 1k word chunk.

I guess you could summarize these points as ‘poor community management’. For whatever reasons, Scott doesn’t seem to be devoting the level of attention to the site that would make it really shine. Assistants would help, and there are several “Geek Gods” listed on the main page, but again for reasons that are not apparent, none of these folks seem to be assisting in any immediately visible manner. I hope this gets straightened out, because it’s a fantastic idea.

For me, one of the most valuable aspects of a writing class is the permission & environment & deadlines needed to crank some serious wordage out. I’m not getting that, so I’ll probably sit this one out. I’ll gladly go back and view the lectures when I they’re all posted. I’m pretty happy with the few thousand words I cranked out as part of a new story, and quite possibly they’ll see light of day at some point.

There’s some lessons here for community management.

  • Focus on the individuals in the community.
  • Get frequent feedback and act on it.
  • Make full use of web technology. Off-the-shelf search is great for this sort of thing.
  • Let community members do their thing at their own pace.
  • Ask people to help you. Delegate.
  • Think carefully about incentive systems and how they will shape the atmosphere around your community.


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Messy desk report for July 2013

August 1, 2013

Bigger news than my main desk is my secondary desk, a drafting table set up in an “L” configuration with my main desk. It’s clean.

I reached a breaking point and cleaned my whole office. This secondary desktop now contains, in full: blank paper, two papers to be filed in the nearby cabinet, a rubber band, headphones, a library book waiting to be returned, and a box of various vitamins/supplements that I really need a place to keep.

My main desk is pretty typical, but with more notes and diagrams than usual.

I really miss running.

I’m participating in the Brandon Sanderson weekly lecture series, and as a result putting together the episodic Silicon Valley satire that’s been on the back of my mind for while. It feels good to dig into a new project, but I have two pieces left in that awkward stage where the draft is complete but unsatisfying. My hope is that by the time the Sanderson lectures finish, my subconscious will have worked out all the details and I can quickly finish those. Yeah, I’ll let you know how that turns out. -m

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Top ten rejected names for Grape-Nuts cereal

July 21, 2013

So it started out when I was editing a story that mentions Grape-Nuts, and like millions of others have, I wondered at the official product name for something that is neither grape nor nut. This led to the following Twitter outburst, which still may be in progress for all I know. Check the hashtag #rejectednamesforgrapenuts (and apologies to everyone searching for ‘gra penuts’ and ending up here. Weirdos.)

10. Frapatto Stones

9. Buckshot Kibble (contributed by M. David Blake)

8. “Ow! My teeth!”

7. Gran Cru Gravel

6. Muscat Macadam

5. Raisin Rubble

4. “What do you mean, you didn’t put the yeast in?”

3. Kitty Litter

2. Cabernet Cobblestones

1. And the number one rejected name for Grape-Nuts cereal, Indehiscent Bunches of Barley

P.S. A late-breaking entry from @MrPersimmon; I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gravel



Messy stress report for May and June 2013

July 1, 2013

Here’s what’s happening on my desk and in my life.

The biggest news in my life is that I don’t have <serious, chronic, debilitating condition of the joints>. I’ve always drawn a line around blogging about medical issues because it sounds whiny to my ear, so I’ll just say this: I need to take it easy for another 8 weeks or so, and then I should be back running again. A huge weight is off my mind, and worries that have been slowing me down for the last two months turned out to be overblown.

Isn’t that how worry nearly always turns out?

On to the desk. Right now, in front of me I see some ASL study materials, a diagram of a story I’m working on (sketched on the back cover of the FOGcon program), a photo from a recent party, and another paper of Pixar’s Storytelling Rules that was taped on my wall but keeps falling down, and a library check-out receipt. Food items: two kinds of chocolate, a glass of yerba mate, xylitol, and a stray ketchup packet.

On the writing front, my Duotrope subscription expired and I have no current plans to renew. We’ve drifted apart. While setting up their transition to a paywall site, they added a bunch of features–notably tracking pay-to-submit as well as nonfiction sites–that are of absolutely no interest to me. I’ve migrated over to The Grinder, which although experiencing several kinds of growing pains, is already a closer fit to the kind of market research tool I need. Also most of my friends have switched as well. :)

Despite various stresses, I have been writing, and submitting. My novel is away after a full request  Including that, I have nine pieces making the rounds at the moment, soon to be ten if I can finish up this one thing on my (computer) desktop. This is after retiring several older stories, so it’s a strong bunch, and I won’t be too surprised to see some of them end up in a good home soon.

I’m also signed up for Brandon Sanderson’s online writing workshop, which AFAICT is supposed to begin tomorrow. Should be fun. There’s an idea for a next novel burning a hole in my brain, so the less I write on the blog, the more I can plan on that project.

Don’t worry, be happy.

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“Served” now live on Every Day Fiction

June 7, 2013

My flash fiction story Served is now live at Every Day Fiction. Go forth and enjoy!

Technical note: the URL for this story has an unusual character in it, a Unicode bullet U+2022, encoded as %E2%80%A2. I haven’t seen this on other stories on the EDF website, so I assume it’s a minor oversight. However, I do not wish them to fix it at this point (unless redirects are used) because otherwise links from across the web like this one would break. Cool URI’s don’t change.

Anyway, the story. Go read it, I’ll wait. Ripped from the headlines, it’s about patent trolls, a term that’s been in the news recently. This story is just the teensiest bit inspired by Nancy Kress’s Patent Infringement, which I heartily recommend.

Got any other patent-related stories you can recommend?


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Messy Desk Report for April 2013

May 5, 2013

My office, which is actually a spare bedroom, has a sliding door closet right next to where the desk is situated. As a result, there’s not a lot of wallspace on which to hang things. (I’ve tried taping things to the sliding door, but they get almost instantaneously shredded when the doors overlap). As a result, lots of things that I’d like to keep up within line-of-sight, reminders say, get piled on the desk. Hence the frequent statification.

I have Pixar’s 22 rules of writing, and no place to put it. And I still have nicely marked-up pages from the FogCon writing workshop. Last month was brutal, and this month was better, if only because things had nowhere else to go but up. There are things more important that writing–family for instance–and taking care of these things takes time and energy. The trick is to get things running smoothy enough that it doesn’t take every spare second of your day.

So I finally got to the end of a brand new story, and set in on the second pass of another story that I drafted late last year. Neither one is ready to go out yet, so that puts my pace at far less than two stories in two months. But I’ll take it.

Desk-wise, I am accumulating a large number of empty mint tins (mostly not on top of the desk). If anyone has a use for these, I’d like to hear it.

Drinking: water.

Food on desk: two kinds of xylitol mints, and on the opposite corner, a selection of teas and yerba mate.

Electronics: Kindle fire, old iPhone, old iPhone case, and a handful of cables.

Not all that bad, considering.

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Messy Desk Report for March 2013

April 5, 2013

There are some months when just getting through them is a major accomplishment. This was one of those months.

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Come see me on the Flash Fiction panel

March 3, 2013

Flash, (ahahhhh) Saviour of the Universe

Queue up the catchy Queen soundtrack, I’ll be participating in a panel on Flash Fiction at FOGcon, Sunday at 10:30 am.

Last year, I read slush for Flash Fiction Online, and this year I’m dabbling in reading for Shimmer–two very different experiences, of which I hope I can use to add some insight to what the incomparable moderator Jamie Henderson and co-panelsists Vylar Kaftan and Ann Wilkes have to say.

If you’ll be there, be sure to Tweet and Bookface (I think that’s what the kids call it these days) with the hash tag #FlashSaviouroftheUniverse

(And what’s with the spell-checker-confusticating spelling of ‘saviour’? Is that a British variant as a nod to Freddie Mercury? Guess you’ll need to attend to find out!  :-)

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