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Friday, November 22, 2013

Free stuff giveaway! Forget-Me-Not's coming out, and it's about...

Since her mother vanished nine years ago, Anamae and her father have shared a quiet life. But when Anamae discovers a brooch identical to her mother's favorite pendant, she unknowingly invites a slew of trouble into their world. When the brooch and the pendant are worn together they're no longer pretty pieces of jewelry -- they're part of a highly developed technology capable of cloaking the human form. Triggering the jewelry's power attracts the attention of a secret society determined to confiscate the device -- and silence everyone who is aware of its existence. Anamae knows too much, and now she's Enemy Number One. She's forced to leave her father behind when she's taken in by a group determined to keep her safe. Here Anamae searches for answers about this hidden world. With her father kidnapped and her own life on the line, Anamae must decide if saving her dad is worth risking her new friends’ lives. No matter what she does, somebody is going to get hurt.

This is a YA spec fic that I've actually read and enjoyed back in its beta-stages, so I can actually say I know what I'm talking about. It's coming out February 17, 2014, from Entranced Publishing's Rush imprint, so ADD it to your goodreads and squeal.

Or don't squeal, actually. That's annoying. Just add it.

Here's the link to the giveaway I promised! Free things!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Also, check out Stacey's website at stacey-nash.com. There, and in the book, you will meet characters like these!

This is the guy I don't want Annamae to fall in love with. He's the "bad boy." (Or he thinks he is = P)




This is the guy I originally liked for Annamae, but after a while Jax's coolness kinda ruined it (dangit!):


 And this is the troublesome pendant that starts it all:
So what are you waiting for??? Add this to your goodreads! I like this story. So do what I say!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Meaning Behind The Story: I Am Disease

Some of you have read my short story, I am Disease, published in the PMM anthology Bleed. If you haven't, of course, you can go support cancer research by checking it out here, but in the meantime I really just wanted to spend an honest minute sharing what it means. Not because I'm some kind of guru of fantastic and great wisdom, but because there's a something in it that's important.

Bleed called for horror stories where the monster represented cancer. In I Am Disease, you read from the point of view of the cancer itself, pulsating with hungry, visceral desires to consume good and normal cells. It's a zombie who wants to eat your brains—a pretty obvious tie. What makes I Am Disease a little different from a lot of monster stories is that (spoilers!) the zombie isn't killed in the end—but he doesn't win, either. When we normally think of chemotherapy, we think killing cancer cells. What if we could come up with a therapy that changed them back to normal? That's the hope behind this zombie fairytale.

But I Am Disease isn't only about cancer, and it's this “not only” that I want to share with those of you who don't have cancer.

Fun-fact: I Am Disease was originally titled Zombie Pornography.

Yeah, like, what?

The story isn't just a biological metaphor, but also a psychological and spiritual metaphor. The zombie represented addiction.

Le gasp.

I'm not going to go into sordid details here, because life isn't about me, but I do want to be honest with you. I'm a fallen person and I struggle. I need. Addiction was a real experience to me. And I think addiction is something we need to talk about. Because honestly, addiction and cancer at their most fundamental, metaphysical level are the same. They're both a part of you that isn't you that's trying to take you over. One eats your body, and one eats your psyche and soul, but it's the same concept: self cells grow out of control and no longer do what you want them to do.

And you become a zombie. Anyone who's experienced this knows what I mean. And that's where the psychosexual, cyclic, repetitive high-low-need imagery of the story comes into play. You feel sick. You feel like you're only alive every high, when you're not on chemo and you're not fighting and the thing that's killing you has you in its grip, and the rest of the time you feel so...monotonous and hungry and moaning.

But we don't have to stay there.

In the end, the hunter with the medical dart who cures the zombie is a researcher, an oncologist who believes you don't have to be destroyed—that murderous, out of control cancer cells can be saved. The hunter's also pointing me to another kind of doctor. This doctor will put himself in harm's way to awaken the life in me and walk me through my internal struggle. This doctor's not a psychologist or therapist or any other kind of thing that waits in a chair for you to come to them: he seeks you out, and he's not going to stop until you're cured, no matter what it costs him, no matter what it costs you. My grandmother used to call her chemotherapy “mean little pills,” and sometimes it's like that! But my hunter sticks much, much closer than a brother, closer than even your own heart, and he loves your healing.

So, I've said three scary buzzwords—addiction, pornography, and spoilers!--in one post, and I'm about to say another. I should really quit while I'm ahead, but here goes:

Jesus.

That's all. That's all 'cuz that's my only hope.

Kay I'm gonna go hide from this post now. It's just that since I worked hard to make the story itself not preachy and obvious and dumb, I wanted to share my heart with you a little here. Whether you like my interpretation or not, I hope you got something out of the story, and I love you! I love you and believe your zombie—whether it's cancer or addiction or Alzheimer's or self-image issues or a horrible relationship or just a bad day—can be beaten. The doctor's here!

See you soon.

--love, a recovering zombie

Friday, November 8, 2013

The plague on our words: How we're sapping the meaning from our sentences


Something's laying heavy on my heart tonight. It's 2:35 AM, and instead of sleeping I'm haunted. Please, I beg you dearly, think about this haunting with me. We stand in the midst of a plague, a passive-aggressive invasion that penetrates beyond the words we type into our very hearts—and lives may depend on this.


They may not. 


What on earth am I talking about?


Awareness movements all over the world this month culminated in words on twitter feeds and Facebook posts and comment threads, orgasming into “awareness” without ever giving birth to action. And it's not just this month. It's this year, this decade. Do we as writers—and as citizens of the internet in general—spend so much time thinking about social issues we forget to actually solve them?


How many breast cancer victims were helped this month by girls writing about their bra colors on Facebook? By boys dressing in pink tiaras to crack jokes about boobs? Now, how many possible breast cancer victims were saved by an actual conversation about self-exams, or donations to cancer research? Do we see the difference between the cancer researchers and educators and the “I'm wearing lacy black” gagtivists? Yes? No?


Bear with me a second, please please please, and let's keep questioning. There's a thread of sorcery here.


Do you write about racial equality? You that person who signs petitions, incorporates race issues into your fiction, lets your blood pressure rise with every race-based news story you read? Okay, great. But what do you actually do about it? When you're feeling fired up about inequality, do you go rant about evil racists on Facebook? You do know that doesn't make much difference, right? 


You vote or whatever? That's cute. But my dear friend do you know what makes real difference in inequality? Stepping away from the keyboard for a little bit and making things more equal. Give some of your stuff away. Mentor a kid who's disadvantaged. Donate to scholarship programs—it's easy to do stuff like that if you drink a little less Starbucks or even just buy the cheap ham instead of the good ham for a month. If you're part of a disadvantaged minority, promote equality by showcasing your awesomeness in your community with volunteering programs, local art projects, whatever you can think of—because no matter what color you are, ranting does not make nearly as much difference as helping disadvantaged youth, or celebrating you by representing the best to the world. Create good “stereotypes” by becoming the model you want people to think about. Yes, people suck. But you will only overcome evil with good. With action. Not politics. They could make five hundred thousand million laws about hate and it will change nothing if people’s hearts don't change, and only local, personal action changes hearts.


Another question.


Do you write about religious bigotry? You know, you've got that asshole character or that “societal pressure” you're decrying all the time? Great, but what are you actually doing to combat religious bigotry? Penning sordid stories of child abuse, priests, and bombed abortion clinics doesn't count. That's all talk. Are you actually forming relationships with close-minded people to love them into your point of view?


This is where you go “what the hell no,” and this is where I point out that I had a rough time ideologically in high school, partly because everyone else was an asshole, and partly because I was an asshole. Do you know what didn't help me tone down my ideologies? An entire school bus of people yelling at me. The extremists in my class sitting behind me making fun of me every time I opened my mouth. Stuff like that made me into a real asshole for real. You know what did help me? Kind people being kind to me in college while I was getting my ass kicked by personal stuff. If you want to make an actual, real-life difference to combat social stigma, you need to make some crazy religious friends and love them. You need to be that thing that surprises them into saying, “oh, huh, this kind of person isn't all bad.” And maybe you'll find they're not all bigots, either. We stereotype what we don't know: you could be stereotyping people even while you're fighting stereotypes with your satire, and that would be sadly ironic, wouldn't it?


How many times do you and I post stuff like “pray for Haiti” or “remembering the victims in this and such place” but we don't pray, and we don't donate to help the victims, or send them anything, or do anything at all except talk?


Maybe it's too much work for too little return. Writing an award-winning novel's hard, but it's more fun and fame than walking into a broken neighborhood to hand out hotdogs. Getting that kick-ass short story about race and religion into the Paris Review propels me towards my dreams way faster than spending an hour tutoring an mentally retarded kid. And that's just it. 


We use popular causes to power our glory and make us feel “aware.” And maybe emotionally we do “care.” But caring isn't a feeling. It's a 'nuther-freaking action, people! 


My dear future self reading this, my dear present friends, please understand—it's absolutely awesome to incorporate causes into your fiction and internet presence. That's kind of my modus operandum. But there's a Greek word for people who pretend to care about something, or even care a lot and tell other people to do things about them, but don't do anything themselves. The word literally means actor, a guy who get up on stage to be something he's not. That word has made it into the English language. You know what it is?


It's hypocrite.


Dear God, please let me not be that. Let me be a person who actually does shit, not just a dreamer and watcher and talker. Let me be a live-er.


Then I'll have something to write about.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Medfacts #2: Getting stabbed in the chest part 2: Surviving right side pneumothorax



Last post we left our heroine with pneumothorax after she got stabbed in the right side of her chest. If you're a writer, you now want to write either a realistic death scene, or a realistic rescue. Here are some basics to remember as you do the latter.


Somehow, you need to get that air out of her chest. Doctors now-a-days will stab a tube into the space below her ninth rib, towards the front—this is called her ninth intercostal space—and suck that air out. They put it in the ninth space (under the ninth rib), towards the front, so they don't hit your liver. That ninth space is actually just below the border of your lung and above your diaphragm normally, but now it's way below the border of her lung since her lung's all shriveled up. Doctors will sometimes wait to get an X-ray to make sure this is the problem before doing this, but if your heroine's clearly dying—her pulse has stopped, or she's turning blue from lack of oxygen—they'll go ahead and do this without waiting for those pics.

Doctors aren't just careful about which space they insert into. They're also careful to insert the needle in the right part of that space: in the bottom half of the intercostal space, but above the rib. There are important blood vessels under the top rib that you want to avoid, so you try to move closer to the top of the lower rib—but there are some collateral blood vessels there, too, so you don't insert right at the border of the bottom rib, but rather a little above. So if you're writing some kind of tragedy, or from the point of view of a medical student messing up for the first time, you could either have them accidentally insert the needle and chest tube into the wrong space, or make them insert too high and burst a blood vessel into the space so now she's filling up with blood on top of air and MAN THAT WOULD SUCK DON'T WRITE THAT. If your heroine's lying on a fantasy battlefield far from medical care, maybe your magical healer can “sense” the air in her lungs and find some makeshift way to suck it out. A needle and a bamboo straw, I dunno.

After you've gotten the excess air out of her chest, you want to close up that hole. If you can, you want to close it up with a valve so air can get out, but not into her chest. Her lung should now be able to expand enough to allow oxygen exchange, even though it's punctured, and now that it's configured in more its normal shape instead of shriveled like a kitchen rag her body can try to close up the gap in her lung by building new cells there. She may need to be on a ventilator, but at least now her lung can expand, even if it's got a little puncture, so your battlefield heroine may survive without the machinery. As you can imagine, a lot's going to depend on the size of the hole in her lung, since every time she breathes in she's letting air into that thoracic space. That's why it's good to have a valve, so air can get out of her chest but not in. If you've gotten all the air out of her chest cavity without complications, her survival goes way up, and while she'll need to rest—too much stress and pressure can make her lung want to collapse again—her body can take it from here.

Now what if we're not talking a nice stealthy little knife between the ribs? What if you got her stabbed with like this GIANT GIANT SWORD that penetrated more than 4 cm and left a HUGE GASH in her lung? 


Here, go to the next post in this series.

Tune in next time.



All information from Grant's Atlas of Anatomy, Lippincott's Illustrated Q&A of Anatomy & Embryology, Moore's Essential Clinical Anatomy Third Edition, and the January 2010 article by Nishiumi N., et al, on pulmonary laceration in the Annal of Thoracic Surgery. It's med school.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Medfacts #1: Getting stabbed in the chest, part 1 (right side pneumothorax)


It happens to the best of us. Whether you're an action-adventure lady-in-black slipping through dark alleys with criminals hard on your tail, or a fantasy princess in the front lines giving her life for her kingdom, sometimes we get stabbed in the chest.


As a writer, do you actually know what happens next? As a reader, are you taken in by pretty falsities or can you tell if she should have died or not? Let's go nitty-gritty.


So where you get stabbed matters. 


First, let's say the knife goes in on the right side, anywhere along the body wall between the first and eighth intercostal spaces. Intercostal space means space between your ribs. Because your ninth rib (like all your ribs) curves downward, only the very top part of the eighth space, above the ninth rib, and towards the back, counts with the rest of the stab area we're talking about: we're talking an area roughly from your collarbone to about a hand's-width and a half below your breasts, on the right side. (If you want to be more exact, you can count ribs by remembering your collarbone is about above your second rib, and moving down from there) In this area, on the right side, your evil bad guy only needs to jab his knife between two ribs about 4 cm in to hit a lung. Then what? 


As soon as you puncture your heroine's right lung, it will begin to shrivel up. Why? Two reasons. First, now there's a hole in her chest wall letting air in, and that air will push on her lung, crushing it. Your body works hard to maintain a perfect negative pressure to allow you to breathe, and that's totally thrown off when there's a puncture in the wall creating a positive air pressure. Second, you punctured her lung, so now it doesn't have the air in it to puff it up and help it push back against the air coming in through that hole. If you hadn't punctured her lung, at least when it was full of air it could push back a little. Every successive breath she'd be shrinking her lungs, letting more air in through that hole in her body wall to crush her lung--but at least she'd have a few successive breaths. But we're not talking about that. We're talking about your heroine with a punctured lung. Because there isn't really any space between your body wall and lung anyway—the space that exists is a “virtual space,” and it's just a little layer of mucous cells—it's highly unlikely that you'll puncture the thoracic wall and somehow manage to stop JUST ONE CELL LAYER SHORT of her lung. If she's super-lucky, or she's got a divine protection thing going on, that's something else, of course.


So your heroine's chest will fill with air—that's called pneumothorax. She'll feel a heavy, pressurized pain like there's a refrigerator crushing one side of her chest, or like something's sitting on her, or maybe like something's trying to get out of her chest every time she breathes. If she's got inner demons or a magical realism religious situation going on, you can incorporate that into this feeling. If your heroine's in the 20-21st century era or afterwards, the scifi wizard/spaceship's doctor will see her chest X-ray present with two uneven black hollows where lungs belong. In one side, the black hollow will look really large, and in the other it'll look pretty small, with the air tubes and the heart squished into each other like little white blobs.


What's the prognosis? (How likely is she to survive?) Well, if you don't get her medical help, she's breathing with only one lung, and she'll begin to feel dizzy. The pressure build up will eventually get so bad that you're crushing the non-punctured lung. Her heart will begin to work really, really hard, because it detects that her whole body isn't getting enough oxygen, and your heart always thinks not enough oxygen is its fault. The harder her heart's working, the more oxygen it needs. That sucks, because there isn't enough oxygen for it, so now you've got heart cells closest to the blood vessels eating up all the oxygen, and the heart cells downstream will suffocate and die. That's called ischemia, and it's how you get cardiac arrest. The harder her heart's working, the more her chances of survival plummet—the Annal of Thoracic Surgery found that survivors of lung lacerations tended to have a heart-rate of 107 bpm, which is still elevated, but not as high as the 130 bpm average for non-survivors. Bottom line, you can't breathe with only one lung. Eventually, her heart will die, she'll lose oxygen to her brain, and she will die. Because she can't breathe and her heart-rate's freaking out, she's likely feeling panicky, even if she's a super-calm person.


How will you save her? 


Tune in next time to find out.

Next post in this series.<<Click There!


All information from Grant's Atlas of Anatomy, Lippincott's Illustrated Q&A of Anatomy & Embryology, Moore's Essential Clinical Anatomy Third Edition, and the January 2010 article by Nishiumi N., et al, on pulmonary laceration in the Annal of Thoracic Surgery. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Update! What's going on? Upcoming goodies!

Not usually a big fan of blog updates, because they tend to be useless to the reader, but I wanted to kinda give you guys an idea of goodies I'll have for you in the future! (Yay!) As a lot of you know from my twitter, I'm smack-dab in the middle of medical school and still trying to write a little if I can--which is why blogging and tweeting is slowing down a bit.

BUT I'm dedicated to this whole writing thing, and this is what's going down!

  • Escaping the Dragon: I'm launching a new straight-to-blog fiction serial to celebrate genre diversity! It's about a dimension-traveler, a gal who lives life hopping between several stories and genres--from contemporary to fairytale to scifi to horror to superhero stories to women's fic to whatever else you can think of--while a world-hungry, violent, demented dragon haunts her shadow. She's using every strategy she can think of to kill the beast, but it threatens to infect and destroy every world she lives in--using her hyperactive mind. Keep an eye out over the coming months for the diary of her adventures.
  • Medfacts for Writers: Your MC starving to death? Stabbed in the stomach? Shot in the back? How do you write that, anyway? How does it feel? What are the details that go with the everyday adventures of our protags, and how do you make your hospital scenes sound real--how do you make your doctors know the facts if you don't? Keep a look out for articles in the coming months that explain the fall-out, feelings, symptoms, and writing tips and tricks for the common lacerations, burns, and implosions our adventure MCs deal with. In the meantime, follow my twitter (@petr3pan) for medfacts both related and unrelated to writing. 
  • Short stories: Keep an eye out in the coming year for...
    • a magical realism about friends trapped underground trying to decide who to cannibalize;
    • a vampire who refuses to drink blood--but does her extremist hunger strike go too far when she tries to stop other vampires, too?
    • fairies who live in our coffee beans;
    • a citizen of an organismal city, with living walls and floors, gets transferred to a nuclear post-holocaust zone and discovers his heartbeat is slowly killing him--but the girl he loves doesn't want him to change it!
    • a surreal, zuihitsu-style taste of a zombie brain the moment before it's killed, a hopeful fairytale commentary both on addiction and cancer, available now from the Bleed horror anthology--all proceeds go to supporting cancer research for kids!
  • Becoming Hero, about the superhero comic book character who shoots his author, is getting some good bites from agents, so maybe I'll have something to share on that front soon. I want to do a series of youtube readings for you all--complete with pictures and voices and fun!--once I'm allowed.
  • And more! Yay!
So that's what's coming down the pipe for you guys and gals. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Escaping the Dragon, entry 2 (fantasy blog serial)

September 29, 2012

Locale: Redacted SciFi World Name

Feeling so much better today. Marched right into the Monk Academy, grabbed a Leche Azul drink from the first robot I saw in the hallway, and waltzed into the children's holographic training room just like any other day, without even a flicker from my shadow. The GrandTeacher nodded as I walked in; I flipped him my casual two-finger salute and called to my student. Just an ordinary day visiting the academy, a day full of sweaty, sticky mats, smooth sweet zinging Azul in my mouth, and Arol's bad attitude. (Arol--that's my student's name) The trick to dimension-traveling, of course, is that no one knows you've ever been or lived anywhere else--when you travel it's like you put the whole world on pause. Of course, it's only on pause to you. Can't actually stop time, far as I know. Not in most dimensions, anyway. 'Course if you tell anyone about your dimension travels you sound like a demented day-dreamer. That is, until a drooling megalomaniac extremist finds out the truth, and uses your brain to open rifts in time and space so he can take over--

Yeah, that's happened before. He's dead now. Or trapped in a null dimension. I don't remember exactly.

I do remember that we saved this pretty world. I love the city of <redacted>. I love standing at the tip of the monks' spire, arms spread like a phoenix, toes clenching the orb atop the pole under me as I scream into the wind because I can. I remember my heart racing the first time I climbed that spire; I remember teetering as the silver bullet-shaped Civvies zipped by. They're my favorite surface-cars, Civvies, just because they're pretty--they're honestly not very sturdy, and I'd never bet <currency name redacted> on one in a race, but the back tail swoosh makes me think of sharks, the concave sides make me want to run my hand across the smooth metal, and the open roof reminds me of every time I've ridden in one, all decked out in shimmering blue ripples as the Senator's "legislative assistant." (Actually her bodyguard every time) All pretty with the make-up on my shining eyes. It was a translucent glittery veil covering my lower jaw then, not this respirator, not this heavy chest plate keeping me alive--no bad reputation to forget, over and over, while my friends remind me I'm "past that now."

"It was just a rough phase for all of us, with the Witch attacks and stuff. And your friend died! And it wasn't fair what happened to you. And you're okay now! And we love you." And so on and so forth. How I want to uphold that, to prove them right.

It's good to have someone believe in you.

Those days aren't exactly gone, but I'm not in town much, so I guess the Civvies make me nostalgic for the sweet days of childhood. Not that these days are bad: I pilot my cargo freighter crew all over the known--and unknown galaxy--and Arol travels with me, dragging all his tough-guy-ten-year-old issues along. Glad shapeshifters hit puberty around the same time human boys do, so at least I've got some time to prepare before THAT happens. In the meantime, our travels educate him well, and keep us both out of trouble in the capitol, which I'm sure makes GrandTeacher very happy.

So, the dragon. Yeah, I was s'posed to go to the GrandTeacher about that today. Arol wanted to go get wurms--think sushi, but chewier--and I wanted him to finish the flight simulator and meditation before we went back to Form II sword technique, and it's taken the whole day. But I've invited the GrandTeacher for dinner and sent Arol to bed--he's with my best pal, Onraka, my navigator and sometime boss, sometime partner in prankalicious crime--and yeah. I'll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, it's been a good day. It's okay that I jump every time I see my shadow--long as I don't talk to it, right?

Read Page Three

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Escaping the Dragon, Entry 1 (Low Fantasy Serial)

September 26, 2012

First post! Or Dear Diary...

My dragon caught up to me today. I'd slipped into a world where unicorns exist, a field of heather I know not where, and bathed in cool shade and lilting, dancing sunlight I chased after them. They only come willingly to maidens, and I'm married--no longer a maid--so I hid in the grass, stifling giggles as my muscles rippled and blood surged with adrenaline and mischief, itching to catch a ride the hard way. Like a fool, a happy fool--those horns aren't for show. But this is my raison d'etre!


But then the shadow ate the shade around me. My shadow reared up into a shape much bigger than me, with feathery decay in its wings and a stench that makes you tingle from your privates to your gut, like the odor alone is a violation--

I screamed, tried to pull back--

I really did!

Why didn't the stupid horn-horse run?

But the dragon ripped the unicorn in two. Snapped off its horn and shoved it through the creature's--

Sick bastard. My stomach's turning writing this. I hate it. I hate how it snuck up on me, didn't give me a chance to fight it. I hate how it's following me. These are my worlds! Let me be in my worlds! I'm a dimension-traveller for pleasure, not to be the carrier of some freakish parasitic death-vector!

I'm never going back to that field, wherever it was. It was too pretty for me. I realized today that I'm not winning anymore. The dragon's not something I can ignore. I may wake up tomorrow imprisoned in shadow, with scales creeping up my arms and legs and its thoughts penetrating every bit of my mind. I'm writing this down so that if it wins, if it gets my brain, if it devours one of your worlds through my hands--you'll know I tried. Whoever you are.

Tomorrow I'm waking up in a science fiction. There, maybe, one of my space-warrior friends can track down a cure I just haven't thought of yet.

Tonight I'm just trying not to travel in my dreams.

Oh God I think I'm scared of the dark...

Page two

Thursday, July 25, 2013

CANCER AND ZOMBIES AND YOU: Announcing the BLEED Horror Anthology to Kill Cancer!

Hey guys! Just wanted to shout out--my zombie short story was selected for BLEED, a hopeful horror anthology where all proceeds go to kids with cancer! I know a lot of you are passionate about cancer, and a lot of you love stories, so if you want to read like, the most hopeful zombie story EVER, go ahead and pre-order here! http://bit.ly/1duCIq0 Pretty please share! For the children! (And for me = P) *oh also and for the zombies kbye
 
It's dripping from my lips like wine. It crunches between my teeth, at once smooth and rocky, like chunky peanut butter. Sometimes it's old, rotten, or diseased, and smells like cheese. Today it's got a warmer, more metallic, raw smell...
/end teaser

http://bit.ly/1duCIq0

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Superhero Shoots His Author: The New Pitch For Becoming Hero



It's almost like teen superhero Skye lives in a bad comic book. Mobsters! Aliens! Plant-zombies! Major girl problems with ninjas included! Skye's losing everyone he loves, and he's got his conflict-hungry author to blame. Every time tragedy strikes, Skye claws out of the rubble and drags himself to his feet. At least he's always got his best friend, right? Until the author writes #339. Skye's best friend kills him. 

Or so he thinks. Skye's life, now with ridiculous inter-dimensional physics! The weapon meant to disintegrate Skye lands him in his author's universe, where a kind inner-city cop takes him in. The cop's son Jace, a quiet comic book aficionado, tries to ease the wounded hero out of PTSD--but Skye won't take help for his nightmares. He won't tell anyone he's "fictional," and the author's still torturing his friends in the comic books. Skye's never killed before, but he's getting angry enough to steal a firearm, creep into the author's high rise, and-- 

As Skye's mood swings and nightmares escalate, Jace realizes that if he doesn't uncover his roommate's real identity soon, Skye will hurt someone--and Skye must decide if one murder will save his world, or damn his soul.

This is the new pitch for my high-concept, 80,000-word YA, Becoming Hero! Does it sound like something you would read?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Inbound Marketing: Which Software Platform Works for You?

In a world where all your customers, your grandmother, and you, yourself have grown weary to death of interruption marketing, world-over entrepreneurs have begun embracing a little thing called inbound marketing. The principle is quite simple: rather than interrupting customers with ads, commercials, and pop-ups, become accessible. Become search-able. Become so great, delicious, effective, or whatever that your customers market your product for you.

This is especially important for writers--especially self-publishers--to understand: we don't want book commercials or twitter spam promoting your work every ten seconds, we want you to provide useful web content that makes us interested in promoting your work ourselves!

Delightful marketing begins with an organized internet campaign. Many business owners manage inbound marketing via a conglomeration of different programs--one outlet for a blog, another for e-mailings, a separate twitter account--but several integrated software platforms exist to accomplish all this in one package.

Hubspot

By far the easiest inbound marketing platform to find online--which says something of their own marketing--Hubspot offers
  • Keyword research/SEO optimization tool
  • A blogging platform
  • Twitter and Facebook account management with keyword tracking and auto-publish features
  • URL tracking
  • Landing page customization, with optimization features to promote better conversion (turning traffic into leads)
  • List management to allow targeted marketing to different aspects of your consumer base
  • A thinner, prettier version of Google Analytics
  • An app marketplace
  • Web design management and more.
--all for $200 a month.

The biggest inherent concern with Hubspot other reviewers have? You get what you see: the websites, blog, and even analytics tools aren't as nitty-gritty, customizable, and "computer-programmy" as doing it all yourself--good news for small business owners without any tech experience, bad news for experienced SEO geeks or anyone who enjoys Wordpress functionality. By far the most focused on pure inbound marketing, and the most friendly, this software suite may be best for beginners. This is something your self-published author might use.

Marketo

This "grown-up" platform puts less emphasis on social media and blogging, and more emphasis on slightly more traditional marketing techniques, with features included for off-line events, phone calls, and mailings. It includes:

  • E-mail marketing with deep CRM
  • Smart-lists that allow customizable e-mails to target the right consumer base
  • Polls, etc, and other customizable content on landing pages
  • Events organization coordinating on-line and off-line events--with landing pages, e-mails, etc.
  • Sales insight for when-ready leads and phone calls
  • Track-able snail mail
  • Tracking of marketing "efficiency"--which leads come from where
  • Contests and sweepstakes to engage social media users
  • Intense keyword research/SEO optimization
  • Activity log that tracks each customer's engagement all along the way, allowing for strong relationship-building
--all for $1,195 a month.

Reviewers have complained that using the program really requires technical knowledge, even when it comes to designing simple e-mails--otherwise results simply don't look as professional. Marketo support takes a while to respond, forcing most users to rely on the fortunately blossoming social community around Marketo for advice. The social media platform boils down to share buttons and Facebook content, with nothing to populate twitter and little information for blogging. This all adds up to make Marketo a bit less friendly that Hubspot. Nevertheless, the power to see which marketing techniques generate leads, the extremely sophisticated analytics, and the ability to manage off-line marketing provide huge draws for Marketo. This is something your publishing company might use.


Infusionsoft

Infusionsoft advertises itself as software built for "Joe and Janette"--for small business owners. Features include:
  • Web activity monitoring, tracking financial return on investments by lead source
  • Drag-and-drop landing page and web form generator
  • Automated follow-up campaigns triggered by very visual, easy to plan marketing maps
  • Automatic page submission--their ad page calls this "search engine optimization," but it's really only submission to search engines and meta tag inclusion using user-supplied keywords
  • Pre-built campaign templates include ideas like remembering customer's birthdays and automating certain contact requests
  • Drag-and-drop e-mail marketing that includes spam scoring
  • Contact management and prioritization, to allow targeting of most-interested customers first
  • Integration with Wordpress, Customer Hub, Kajabi to create paid-access-only website areas

--all for $219 a month, plus the required training package fee around $1,999.

The e-mail software doesn't work well with Mac, and of course, as with many drag-and-drop programs, the customizability for web forms, e-mail, etc, is limited. The software's greatest benefit lies in its deep integration--with campaign ideas and automation provided, small business owners can run a marketing plan that works from start to finish rather than checking every stop. Social media integration really isn't included, and some have said the sales reports are difficult to navigate. Reviewers suggest that if you have less than 20 employees, this software might work for you. This is something your big-time self-published author or small publisher might use.

Eloqua

At $2,000 a month minimum, this is Marketo's scarier big brother, the most expensive and largest marketing platform here. Experienced marketers--and marketers with deeper pockets--often go for this major market shareholder right away. Features include:

  • Campaign designer with precise controls--includes campaign automation from start to finish
  • Intensely targeted marketing with contact profiling and standardized data management
  • Social data management with apps and reports on social media activity--includes integration with Youtube, LinkedIn, twitter, FB, etc, and the ability for consumers to sign into your website using social media so you can collect data on them
  • Revenue performance software to track marketing efficiency
  • Event management
  • Incredibly detailed, sophisticated, multi-optioned web and e-mail builder
  • Personalized tech support
  • Various other features updated regularly

This is the giant everything-beast, although it does not allow automated tweeting or Facebook posting from within the Eloqua software. That's not much of a loss for a social suite whose social media integration is so intense, you can know almost everything about your consumers as soon as they sign in to your web page. Users recommend Eloqua because of its full tech support, detailed data management systems, and the ability to follow customers from start to finish.

Eloqua allows for large companies to integrate their strategies across brands and websites. There isn't much focus on blogging or quality content generation, though--this suite is more about e-mail campaigns, website optimization, and social media data collection. Businesses that use Eloqua usually assign many marketing professionals to all its different aspects, and for that reason Eloqua allows for multiple security groups. Not every user has access to everything--that minimizes human error. This is something your giant publishing group might use.


Each inbound marketing tool works for different professionals, with Eloqua and Marketo targeting larger companies while InfusionSoft and Hubspot target smaller businesses. In the end, your decision to utilize an inbound marketing platform like these will depend not only on your technical knowledge, business size, or the features of the software, but upon whether or not you want to "do it yourself"--and to what extent. Many authors, who'd rather spend their time writing, may find an integrated package provides peace of mind and boosts sales, but for now I think I'll stick to doing-it-myself! Do you use any marketing software? How's your inbound technique? 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Writing with Love

In a little tidbit from the book "How to Win Friends and Influence People," by Dale Carnegie (short version of the book here), Carnegie tells a story about a writer who failed because no matter how well he wrote, his readers could tell he disdained them.

Do you love your readers?

Are you furious, writing satirically because you're pissed off at society and you want change? Good. But does that bitterness begin to target your readers, or does it, in true Mark Twain style, invite them into your side, your sarcasm, your vengeful inside joke with you?

Are you telling a story for the sake of art? To make something beautiful for you, for its own sake, and "who cares what they think"? Good. But does that art exclude your reader, or does it invite her down a path she's never taken? When you stand alone, unique against the onslaught of conformity, is your reader allowed to stand with you?

There's always a debate, a tension, between writing something publishable and writing something true to you. The thread that ties these together--the equation that collapses the paradoxical wave function, if you like quantum things--is love. Love of your subject drives you to uniqueness, to your story, to your art, to your fire, your satirical stand alone; love of the people drives you to motivate them, to revision and more, to the adaptation of art so that it's accessible to someone who isn't you. Love forces you to look inside yourself, and yet step outside yourself. Love makes you listen to your agent and to critique, because you want to give something to your reader. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love rejoices in the truth (1 Cor 13)--the true story you weave through fiction, the story beyond what is "publishable." But love bears all things.

Love is the best way to write a book.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Johnny Storm gives us a black Human Torch--but I'm afraid he's only going to reinforce racial stereotypes

David Willis recently posted this comic, and it was funny. Folks have taken Marvel superhero Johnny Storm (Human Torch) and apparently they're going to make him black. Some people are apparently complaining, because they hate black people.

Detail, cover of Fantastic Four #542[date missing]
Art by Adi Granov, found at wikipedia
I'd be more worried about Johnny Storm doing a disservice to the black comics community at large. He's loud, obnoxious, reckless, and a sleeping-around-cheater--basically every stereotype white people throw at black men to justify racism. While Storm's newly-black sister Sue might be a voice of reason, it's super-easy to stereotype the "mystical black woman" and she might well fit that stereotype, depending on the writing. Better idea: why can't they make Reed Richards black? Oh, is it because the smart scientist isn't allowed to be black? They had to choose the noisy obnoxious loud guy to be black instead? Geez, that's great.

These comic artists cannot get race right. When you pallete-swap an already-established character you're almost always going to fall into some kind of stereotyping--the authors are too old and too white to make a "black version" of an established character without egregious anti-black racism involved in some way or another. In comics, it's better to make all-new characters with fresh storylines. Static Shock, for example, was created based on a black Spiderman, but he became his own character with his own powers, and it was always interesting because he's his own guy. The black Spiderman in Ultimate comics isn't a black Peter Parker--he's his whole new own character and he rocks. See, there should have been more unique black characters to begin with. We don't need the same characters booted over and over. Put them to rest, let the stories end, and get all-new characters so that creativity can flourish and race stereotypes aren't permeated. Creating a "black batman" or a "black superman" is just a way for old white men to point out to black people, "look, we never made any black characters for you--so you can re-use on of our old ones. We're too lazy to actually make good, unique characters for you, we'll just reboot some we've already used to death."

I want new superheroes that actually speak to all races and subcultures, not re-sale, re-used, re-washed pallette-swapped stereotype opportunities. What about some decent Asian superheroes, or mixed race superheroes? If you just keep painting Superman or some other guy all different colors, these different characters don't actually get to interact. Where's the fun in that? The black audience is worth more than reboots and used characters. The black audience is worth fresh characters that span a whole gamut--not just one or two that fit certain stereotypes--with new powers, new costumes, and all kinds of new awesome.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Three Good Ways to Make Money as a Casual Writer...

...because when I first started out I had no idea where to start. I was just googling. Go forth! Read below!

Way 1: Ghost-write an ebook for someone

What: If you're casually writing, and don't have time to market/build an ebook, write someone else's book. You get money, they get the rights. The money can range from $200-$450 for a small, easy book, to several thousand if you're an experienced ghost-writer working on a major project. It's great voice practice (eventually, if you ever write first person POV, you don't want all your characters to sound like you) and you'll learn a ton about whatever topic you're researching. I don't ghost-write fiction, because I think then someone else is stealing all your creativity, which is appalling, but when you ghost-write nonfiction you're essentially helping someone else tell the world something important that you wouldn't otherwise know. So that's cool.

Warning: Whatever you do, do NOT take less than $150 for 50 pages. In the freelancing world there's this huge problem where part-time freelancers will take horrible rates--like a few cents a page--which screws over all the full-time freelancers. Why? We can't make a living earning a $4 an hour or whatever you get for a few cents a page. For you, maybe it's just a fun way to get paid for writing, but for other people you're controlling the Invisible Hand into a stranglehold. Besides, don't you think your work is worth more than a few cents a page? Some people would put the threshold even higher than I've put it here and say don't ever write for less than 3 c a word. For easy projects, and to be realistic--because not all small business owners can afford something like that--I bend that, especially when I'm taking on a project I care about. I helped write this awesome book for about $2 a page, which is about 1/14 what I normally make and a terrible rate, but I'm proud of it because I helped someone--who didn't have a lot of money, or the writing skills to tell his awesome story--say something that makes a difference. That's what ghost-writing is about.

Why is this a warning? If you accept substandard rates on content you don't really believe in, I will send Batman to come strangle you.

Yes, Batman. He owes me one free strangle. I ghost-wrote his best stuff.*

How to get started: Check out sites like odesk.com. I found my best long-term clients through Odesk. Go back and read the warning up above, because there are a frack-ton of people out there buying hard work for nothing. Don't take that crap. Take good rates. Calculate minimum wage, and add and subtract how much a project means to you emotionally, and let that be your guide.

Way 2: Ghost-blog

What: Companies--especially small businesses--need to increase their web presence, and thankfully, google won't let them do that by just spamming keywords onto the internet. With the new google updates (not so new anymore), google looks for good content that people want to read. So what if you've got a small business owner who needs that web presence, but doesn't have time to write a whole buncha good blogs?

That's where I--or you--come in. I love ghost-blogging, because I get to actually use my biomedical engineering and history research experience to, yannow, research. I get about $25 a blog. I don't like taking less than that, because these are pretty darn research-intensive (I do science blogs mostly). Write what you know.

Warning: Voice, voice, voice. Get your voice to match your client. There's a two-way paradigm here. As long as your name doesn't go on it, it's not going to hurt you, so write whatever your client wants. Edit the way your client wants you to. On the other hand, you want to be able to get recommendations in the future, and your writing samples are the best tool you have to get more writing done. So don't write veritable crap.

ALSO, "Fight for the Users" (#tronreference) and don't put out misinformation. People out there will trust you. You want them to trust you. You don't want your client to promote lies, and you don't want your client to look stupid. You want to write with love. Seriously. So keep that in mind--"how will this thing I'm writing benefit my client and my reader"--and don't write crap.

Anything that has your name on it? Don't sacrifice a bit of quality. That's no longer ghost-blogging. Don't let them make you write lifeless stuff, either, or stuff you don't believe in.

How to get started: Scripted.com. I've been "scripting" since 2011 and I really love it. However, scripted is starting to get so many writers now it's hard to find jobs. So it's great for casual money-making. You can find some ghost-blogging jobs on Odesk, too.

Way 3: Write to an online magazine.

What: This is straight-up normal writing. No ghosting, nothing super-fancy or secretive. Usually 3c a word. Check out this awesome list of markets.

Warning: Sometimes it's better not to write the article until after you've gotten the "okay" with the pitch. Check individual market guidelines so you can tailor your tone for a particular magazine.

How to get started: I gave you a link up there. Were you paying any attention?

^_^ Alright casual writers, go make money. I remember when I first started I had NO IDEA where to start, so I think this should help you a lot!

*Batman is not real^

^(Yes, he is.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Making Music Through Actions: Video Game Sounds That Reflect Players via InsertQuarterly.com

Let’s tell a story about blindness, interactive creativity, and you.
Once upon a time, video game music depended on set compositions looping over and over, like the music in the earliest Mario games. Then, in 1987, a game you’ve probably never heard of changed video games forever. RBI Baseball simply did something new: the music changed when players reached first base.
Boom! Enter the world of “plot-change” sounds. In 1980, before RBI Baseball, Pacman had something similar to dynamic sound by raising the pitch of the music with the intensity of the action–as the game became more difficult, the pitch rose — but never before RBI Baseball did the music change in direct response to a single “story event.” Now, when you approach the Witch in Left for Dead II, you can hear it. When Link opens a treasure chest, or you win a Final Fantasy battle, the plot point triggers a sound. Settings change sounds, too, like when you walk into a new Zelda dungeon, or when something bad’s about to happen in a survival horror game.
We even have an element of “character-theme” sounds in Dead Space 3, where each new enemy on the field triggers an algorithm of chaotic violin squeaks and cacophonous musical chirps so each player experiences a slightly different set of sounds. That’s the heart of adaptive music. Now, what if instead of just producing a feeling, each part of the music has practical gameplay applications? What if each sound means a different character? Could you encode character location and combat into soundtrack?
In other words, what about an adventure game you could play without seeing?

Keep dreaming with me: Click here! Click here please, and leave a comment over there, not here!
http://insertquarterly.com/2013/04/24/making-music-through-actions-video-game-sounds-that-reflects-players/

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Hold My Wrinkles"--Revised Short Fiction

 Geriatric hospital. I remember that. But him?
"Hold my hand," he breathes.
The sagging skin on my forearm flaps as I raise the claw Time left me. Blotchy flesh-colors clash with the bedsheet's white. What is his name?! My thin voice stings my ears, so I whisper:
"I don't have a hand. I just have wrinkles."
His eyes glisten. He chokes: "You have a beautiful hand. That hand saved lives."
"And struck children, and broke wedding vows, and--" Whine, whine. Instead of my sonorous alto I hear a demoness screeching accusations. Heart-palpitations rock my thin chest. Everything trembles. "And let babies die, and--"
This is a panic attack.
I catalogue the fact. That's all I can do. Rant.
"I don't want to die!" The scream ends in hacking sobs, but dried-out eyes can't make tears. I hate this self. I catalogue that, too.
"Please hold my hand," he croaks.
"I don't have a hand!"
"I do."
I look at his hand, sprawling oversized on his forearm like a cartoon. I remember his muscles used to flex, round and fertile like South America, but I can't remember his name. Sixty years married, but no name. Pathetic. My chest aches; I finally feel tears. My nose runs--I knew he can see.
"It's okay, Jen."
"My wrinkles, he won't take these wrinkles...and I forgot again," I squeaked.
"I'm Brian. I'll hold your wrinkles."
I sigh. "Brian."
"Can I hold your pretty hand now?"
I nod.
He takes my hand.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Make Love Not War? Romance as a Video Game Genre via Insertquarterly.com

 The world could use a few more romance video games.

Oh heavens, the controversy. Let’s trust this publication’s readership is too intelligent to moan, “Oh gawsh, what a girl thing to say,” but maybe the sexists have a legitimate counter-argument here. Romance readership? Women. Romance viewership? Women. With pizza-covered adolescent white-male stereotypes running rampant through video game culture, do companies have any financial room to aim towards a probably female gamership? 

A million times yes. Women make up 47 percent of all gamers, according to a 2012 study by the Entertainment Software Association. Even better, women over 18 make up 30 percent of the community while only 18 percent of gamers are boys under 17. The stereotype is so broken it’s not even money.

With that out of the way, here’s a bigger hurdle: what the heckz0rz is a romance video game, and why would any gamer, irrespective of gender, care about playing it?

Read the rest at Insertquarterly.com. As you know, this blog's all about fiction and adventures, so let's talk about fiction and romantic storytelling in video games! Hurry up, head on over!