June 28, 2011

August Wilson

If your education was anything like mine, the only plays you were exposed to in high school were the Shakespeare you read in English class (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, maybe King Leer or Macbeth) and whatever your school performed for the yearly musical (Guys and Dolls again?). Maybe around senior year you got yourself a Death of a Salesman and/or Glass Menagerie. Once you got to college you picked those two up, some more Shakespeare, maybe Our Town or Die Fledermaus.

You know what, they're all good plays and there is a reason they are timeless (well, aside from that last which is technically an opera). But I will admit that I went through all of high school and all of college (earning a theatre degree!) and I never read a play written by a black playwright.

A couple years ago I saw Fences by August Wilson and was blown away. I mean, blown. away. I went from the Huntington all the way to North Station without speaking (and really, me anywhere not speaking is a bit of a big deal) because I was still reeling from the play's impact.

It is one of ten plays Wilson wrote, each representing a different decade in the 20th century and he African experience of that decade. Fences is set in the fifties after Jackie Robinson and World War II where America is beginning to integrate but hasn't yet reached the civil rights movement.

I wish I had read/scene this play in college. Hell, I wish I had scene/read it in high school. It was the single most powerful bit of theatre I have ever been exposed to and I think I would have approached my college experience entirely different if I had scene it first.

If you are in the New York area or will be traveling there, there is a play written by a black playwright while she was in residence at the Huntington. It's called Stickfly and I saw it when it ran in Boston. It's about black families on Nantucket island. It has some hard hitting dialogue and doesn't just sing a "I'm so persecuted" song. It challenges all its characters and is finely done. Give it a try if you have the opportunity.

June 27, 2011

Why Oh Why? Oh Me. Oh My! (...times seven)

It's hard to keep track of topics when you're on a variety of soap boxes. I've written in two different live journals, hosted a podcast, and now how this blog/journal. Sometimes you think you've written about a topic when you haven't. Or, you think you've written about it in one place when really it was in another and no one is going to see it. Today's post may or may not be a redux. I'm not copying/pasting, but I know it's at least a topic I've covered on the PodgeCast, so we'll call it a redux nonetheless.

I have been pondering the rewrite of HELP WANTED: CHOSEN ONE for awhile now. An agent who read the manuscript suggested I change the main character from Nashau to Bastin, the latter being more energetic and overall more likable. I was unsure of this, because the story I was telling was most certainly Nashau's, but since I already had multiple POVs, it seemed a better way to hook the reader into the overall story. Once I made some cuts, I saw that he was right.

But something happened when I changed the main character. All of a sudden motivations I never had to explain to the reader became necessary. And those motivations seemed pretty thin. You might get away with a second character coming along because of a curiosity or amusement or the adventure of it all. Main characters need more depth than that and Bastin was my main character. So I needed to articulate the reasons he was doing what he was doing.

Now, keep in mind, I'm not making up excuses for why he's doing what he's doing. If you get to that point, your plot is too thin and you need to back up and really take a hard look at things. You should never make excuses for your characters. They do things and they do those things for the reasons they do them. You may feel it, like they do, but given enough time, you should be able to adequately articulate the psychology behind it without making an excuse. If you ever say "just because," you are required to slap yourself in front of a mirror. If your reasons make someone's eyes roll (especially our own), you have to let that person slap you.

But you don't want to be slapped! Neither do I. So it's best we find a way to articulate our characters' motivations. How do we do that? you ask. We ask the Why Tree.

The why tree is not some ancient being of untold knowledge, it is the question "Why?" asked over and over and over again. (I generally recommend seven times for those people that need a rigid number to properly implement such a stratagem.) Write the question why then draw a line to possible answers. Draw a line from those answers to another question why and so forth seven times. The ever expanding list will take on a Christmas tree-like shape. It's a Why Tree.

Bastin is my main character
Why?
Bastin will participate in the quest the prophets claim he is chosen to complete
Why?
To make amends to his adoptive father
Why?
Because he betrayed his adoptive father
Why?
He was young and dumb and didn't trust anyone
Why?
His mother was a prostitute and he ran with a street gang
Why?
His mother died, leaving him on the street
Why?
She had no family to care for him and didn't know who his father was


This has given me all the information I need. When the prophets coming looking for the descendent of a famous count, I have a con man who also doesn't know who his father is. He may or may not be the actual chosen one, something to reveal at the end.

It also gives him the motivation to pursue this quest if you throw in a well-placed "How?"

For all the whys, the HOW? is the really important question. How does all this stuff influence Bastin so he decides to go on this quest? And that's what was stumping me on this rewrite. What was Bastin's motivation that he would risk his life? Amusement? Boredom? May play for a secondary character, but you need something better for a main character. And that's when I keyed on to his adoptive father. I already show Bastin trying to make amends, repaying the money he stole that landed Jin in debtors prison where he eventually died. The thing Bastin can't do, however, is restore Jin's reputation. But here he is being offered a chance to participate in a prophecy. All he need do is tell people it was Jin that did the deed instead of him and all of a sudden, boom! reputation restored. The one thing he cannot do he now can. This doesn't just offer him motivation, but the level of emotional attachment to brave dangers without quitting and an end goal that is worth the risk.

Get excited!

Why?

Because this story is gonna rock your face!

June 26, 2011

Customized Google

Once upon a time in the early days of the intertubes, like last year, you and I could Google the same phrase and get the same results. As we continue down the path of Minority Report where every advertisement ever is customized for our interests and needs of that moment, Google is not so simple a tool as it once was. You see, based on your history and your interests and various brainwaves in specific key areas of your brain, Google can predict what sites would be of most interest to you based on your search parameters.

Humor aside, Google the company has modified its search algorithm so that Google the search engine takes into account various information it has collected about you and customizes your search results to best provide you the results that you would most likely want based on your search parameters and personal tastes.

I don't mind this so much. I mean, yes, it's one more layer away from our privacy onions, but it's not any more intrusive than Facebook and doesn't require me to go into my privacy settings to uncheck boxes that clearly cross a line every four months.

Where this really takes away the fun for me is looking at my analytics here on the website/blog. One of the fields you review is search terms that people used to arrive at your site.

  1. what is being factual?
  2. "moss troll problem"1
  3. henchman street history, boston, ma
  4. hobo writing2
  5. jennifer hillier creep3
  6. jlselby.blogspot.com
  7. josephlselby.com4
  8. sarah megibow rejection partial

I was particularly interested in where I showed up in the Sarah Megibow rejection list (her name is Sara Megibow by the way, without the H). Searching through the first ten pages, I could not find a result that came to my website. Really, if something isn't in the first ten pages, it's not worth finding. SO, this leads us to one of two possible conclusions:

Option 1) My search is customized differently than that person. I'll never know just where I appeared in their search results.

Option 2) That person looked farther than ten pages, in which case, dude, you need to chill. Yeah, Sara rejects partials, including mine and if you went past ten pages, obviously yours as well. Be happy she requested a partial. Plenty of people got passed. Look at the silver lining. And unless you pull out the dick response, she'll be more than receptive to your next query. (She was challening me to submit my next manuscript the NEXT DAY after she passed on my partial. And I picked up that throne gauntlet with alacrity. If this is a duel, it's one I'm going to win. But I'm going to do it with class and manners. So don't be a dick, crazy person.)

Option 35) Someone was trying to find my blog post the other day and thought it would be faster to look over pages of Google search results than scroll down the front page of my website. Because, you know, sure, whatever. I got nothin'.


1 When you put quotes around a search phrase, you are telling your search engine that you want an exact match. Don't look for individual words Moss, troll, and problem. No, that person has a moss troll problem specifically and needed to come here to try and figure out what to do. This is weird because I don't believe I've ever discussed moss trolls before nor do I know how to deal with them (giant slugs would be my first suggestion, though). Still, thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed your time here.

2 YES! Someone is searching for hobo writing! I have officially coined a phrase! (Pauses to make sure it wasn't me. ... no, no it wasn't.) WOO HOO! I hope to go hobo writing again soon.

3 Muah ha ha ha ha, someone Googling Jennifer Hilier's new book came here instead. See that, kiddies? You don't need to write a book, you just need to filch other people's fame. Awesome. I'm winning!

4 Wait... You Googled josephlselby.com to figure out how to come to josephlselby.com? Isn't that like asking what the number is for 9-1-1?

5 I know I said there were only two options, but that one is technically an option too. An incredibly lazy, more work than just coming here, round about way to remember a post I just published last week.

June 22, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Stuffing

So I have decided that rejections that offer praise first actually sting more than just flat rejection. "This is a great story with strong writing, but I didn't fall in love with it" says to me "Damn you were close, but it just didn't click with me" which stings SO MUCH MORE than just a straight "This isn't for me." (Granted, by the time an agent has requested pages, a "this isn't for me" response doesn't work because you'd have to wonder how they couldn't figure that out by the query.)

I am not one of those people that take solace in coming in second. That just means you won at losing. (Extreme, and probably hyperbolic, but you get my point, yeah? I want to win.) Knowing I was SO CLOSE bums me out more than if I hadn't come close at all. I think this may come from a childhood of choking at sports when it really mattered. Or not. I don't know.

But this is not all self-created doom and gloom. Two agents I greatly respect have used pretty much those exact words. Strong writing. Great story. One loved the world building more than the other, but they also read different stories so I'm not sweating that. This is wicked awesome confidence inspiring bolstering supder-dupertude. I've got the tools. I've got the talent. I just need some ghosts to bust...er, an agent that clicks with the stories I tell.

SO CLOSE! It's time to finish in first place. Let's get on that.

...after lunch. Chicken and stuffing. Nom nom nom nom!!!

June 21, 2011

Anti-Social Socializing

I am not anti-social. In fact, I love being the center of attention. I have wanted to be the storyteller since I was five, lying about the size of the frog I caught1. The trick is, there are a lot of social situations where I cannot be the center of attention, and in those cases I find I would much rather be writing.

Most often, this is a barbershop party. My wife is in a competitive a capela barbershop chorus and quartet and those folks love to party. When they party, they sing. I can't sing2. So I hang out while they sing. They're good people and we converse at times, but really, it's a party where everyone else is singing. I would rather write, but I feel that's rude. I don't want to sit in the corner on my computer. So...I sit in the corner with my liquor. It's marginally more social.

Any more, it seems I measure all social engagements against writing time. Knowing that I've already had two hours to write that day, would the time spent socializing be more fun than more writing. If yes, then yay! If no, then...can I bring my computer just in case?



1 It was THIS big!

2 I'm told I could sing very well with proper training, but I consider that training writing time and would not sacrifice the one for the other.

June 20, 2011

A New Game

My wife created a new game last night, one I found to be fun and a great exercise in creativity. (Of course, the pressure of making her laugh mounted as the game went on).

It's simple. One person names an animal or fish. The other person chooses what activity that animal likes best to participate in. Examples:

Kitties play banjos.
Octopi like to play poker.
Kangaroos know kung fu.
Yaks play the harmonica and occasionally the spoons.

And so on. Continue until one side cannot think of an animal/fish or the other side can't think of a fun activity. Or just laugh until it's time to turn out the light and go to sleep. That's my favorite outcome.

June 16, 2011

Meme: Blog of DOOOOOOMMMM!!!!

Ted Cross (of Ted Cross fame) passed along a blog award called the BLOG OF DOOM!!!! While normally I shy away from blog awards, this one is full of DOOM! How could I pass that up?



The Rules:

1. When you receive the Blog Award of DOOM your task is to post a short selection of your writing, 100-300 words, in which your favorite character suffers a horrible fate. It can be your favorite character from your own writing or from something you've read, it can be from a finished manuscript, a WIP or something you just made up on the spot. Your choice, but it has to be full of DOOM!

2. Pass it on to one other blogger and let them know their DOOM has come.

3. Remember that the person who passed the award on to you also received it as well. Go back to their post to read and comment on their writing sample. Make sure to thank them for sending the DOOM your way.

4. Whenever you use the word DOOM in your post, you must capitalize the whole thing.


As such, I will tap Nate Wilson who seems like a ridiculously nice fellow. Let us see his dark side. I'll also give a nod to Jennifer Hillier whose debut thriller CREEP releases July 5th.

As for my own offering of DOOM! I have picked an excerpt from an epilogue that originally appeared at the end of my dystopian sf manuscript, JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. It did not make the final cut (a pun!), but I will most likely post it as a short story here on the site. See after the jump for...DOOM!!!!

(Also, for some context, this scene features quadruplet brothers all of whom are named Joe.)

June 15, 2011

Visual Aid

Yesterday's comments inspired a visual aid that I think best communicates one's goal of publishing and the routes available to you via traditional publishers and self-publishing.

Traditional Publishing




Self-Publishing


June 14, 2011

Splitting the Hairs

Previously I had posted about reconsidering self-publishing as a viable strategy. This was not, as is so often the case, a response to a query rejection. It was prompted by a strategic decision made by my company (a publisher). This was hard to accept for a couple of reasons.

1) Traditional publishing had been my goal for so long, it felt like giving up.

2) Traditional publishers have to revise their business models to cope with the epocalypse and I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.


I learned some things from that investigation as well.

1) While reconsidering my stance was not prompted by a rejection, as soon as a full manuscript was rejected, I began strenuously considering this route. (The revision I made three months later as a resubmit to an agent made the story infinitely better.)

2) It's a standard position for self-publishing advocates to stress that self-publishing (or indie publishing as is the new trend to call it) should still involve rigorous editing and revision. HOWEVER, the vast majority of people self-publishing are skipping this step.

3) Publishers current changes to their business model actually position them in the opposite direction they should be headed. As such, the ideal strategy right now is to traditionally publish paper text and self-publish the ebook (opening a whole can of non-compete worms).


What I know most of all.

1) Pursuing traditional publishing has made me a better writer. A MUCH better writer. For all the vitriol and frustration of craft norming and limitations, I am a thousand times better as a writer and storyteller than I was only two years ago.

June 13, 2011

A Little Binger to Brighten Up Your Day

I never truly appreciated Jim Davis' genius until I read Garfield Minus Garfield where another (much smarter) artist removed Garfield from his own comic and revealed Jon Arbuckle to be the wholly psychotic person that he is.

Following in that line, some other genius has taken classic Peanuts frames and replaced the text with actual Tweets.

The end product will make you laugh so hard, you will pee yourself.

June 10, 2011

PATV

My friend Luke introduced me to Penny Arcade many years ago and it didn't click. I didn't have an X-Box and my Playstation 1 was gathering dust. I didn't get any of their jokes.

But one day in 2005 we're hanging out in his room and his screensaver is a composite of his favorite PA strips (at that time) and they were funny as hell! We went through the whole thing twice and laughed every time. So I started reading the strip regularly and have continued to do so for six years now. And of course, now I have an X-Box 360 that does not gather dust (thanks to Bioware and Valve) and I get more (but not all) of the jokes.

To continue the trend, I didn't key in on Penny Arcade TV right away. I figured it would be lame self-promotion. It turned out to be awesome self-promotion! Self-promotion has a bad stigma to it, but really this is how you want to promote your product. It's an exploration of character and voice and craft. It's funny and endearing and at the end you really wish you worked there too.

June 9, 2011

SEO What

It's never too early to start. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. You may see a lot of ads around the internets for SEO companies that will help you game the system. They understand the value of links to and from your content to work your way through Google's algorithm. Once upon a time it was thought of as narcissistic to Google yourself. Now it's a must.

Go do that right now. We'll wait.

If your website or blog did not come up first, you're doing it wrong. Now granted, some of you may have more competition than others. Once upon a time, there was an English rocker of note with my name and I was appearing on page 6. Now I am the entirety of page 1.

Though that's not entirely honest, is it? Google recently changed its algorithm to personalize search results. Googling the exact same term as you will not yield the same top ten results. So I recommend Googling yourself on a friend's computer (or a coworker's who doesn't have an online history talking to you would be best).

Here's what it comes down to, when an agent Googles your name, you want the first option he/she clicks to be you. Your website, your blog, or at least your Twitter account.

But how, Joe? How do we do this? Links, young man/woman. Links will aid you in your effort. The more (valid) locations linking to your website, the more Google's algorithm thinks your important. (Compound this with the frequency in which you are clicked on after a search and up up up you go!) So you know when you're reading a blog and you see a commenter posting his/her website? That's not just to drive content to their site. It's to improve their SEO as well. Live links (not just the text), leading to your site make it important. That's how unethical SEO companies work so quickly. They set up 175 or so false websites and have all of them link back to you, ratcheting you up the list. Google has taken steps to have such results stripped or at least dropped in ranking. They've added a "relevance" variable, which is why attempting this on your own would be a waste.

Participation is the key! And friendship. People who list your website are helping you. When you list their website, you help them. When you participate, you help yourself and if you participate well, you help the community! It's all interconnected, like on Ferngully.

For me personally, one of the biggest challenges to merging my site and my website is that pages that appear in the top ten results are no longer functional. If an agent were to click on "the Inkwell" for example, they would get a page not found and there's unfortunately no way I can fix it. (This also means older sites and interviews I gave when I was wet(ter) behind the ears are starting to show up on the first page. It takes a lot to kill your history on the internet. Always be mindful of echoes from the past.

So go and be popular, boys and girls! I expect you all to start showing up on the first page of Google results by next month. By next year I want yo to be number one! (Unless you are named after someone famous, in which case find a different way to phrase your online presence so that you might be found.)

Still haven't Googled yourself? I'll make it easy for you. Copy and paste this URL http://lmgtfy.com/?q=joseph+l+selby

Replace "joseph+l+selby" with your own name (and use + signs instead of spaces).

June 8, 2011

The Destruction of the Cloud

I have been a long-time Twitter follower of GalleyCat (an arm of Media Bistro that focuses on publishing) until they posted this article on Monday. Now, as GalleyCat expands its number of contributors, I have found the quality has become more circumspect. This is always a risk with expansion. But said article pushed me over the edge. The stupidity of such a premise offends me to such a degree that I cannot stomach to see their name appear in my Twitter feed any more, so I unfollowed.

If you don't feel like subjecting yourself to the article (and I don't blame you if you do), betting that new technological concepts can be easily exploited by a fear-inducing headline, GalleyCat published an article about Apple's announcement about cloud storage. (Not necessarily a shocker given their pre-announcements and that Amazon and Google are doing the same thing.) GallyCat's statement: Keep your novel on hardcopy because an EMP could destroy the cloud.

Now for you non-science fiction readers, an EMP is an electromagnetic pulse. Did you see the first Clooney Oceans Eleven movie? Don Cheedle sets off a device in a van that blacks out Las Vegas? That's an EMP. They have them in the Matrix too. They're around...in concept.

In reality you create an EMP as part of the effect of a nuclear detonation. I'll write that again: nuclear detonation. In addition to the actual blast and a wave of radiation, there's also a pulse that fries electronic gizmos, power grids, and the like. Blackouts, hard drives wiped, etc. A study shows that an EMP could destroy the cloud!

No shit. An EMP could destroy most anything electronic. That's like saying a nuclear bomb might destroy your house. Telling people to keep a copy of their manuscript on hardcopy because of the risk of EMP is Chicken Littling new technology and not worth my bandwidth. There are two really important facts to keep in mind about this whole premise:

1) Major companies like Apple and Google do not have only one tier of servers and multiple tiers are not kept in the same location. If the servers should fail (a much more likely event than an EMP), back-up servers at a different location take over. So even if someone detonates a nuclear bomb in the atmosphere and EMPs the cloud servers, other cloud servers spin up and you continue doing what you do.

2) A FUCKING NUCLEAR BOMB WAS JUST DETONATED IN THE ATMOSPHERE! I don't know about you, but I have more important things to worry about than my manuscript. Like armageddon.

Witness Protection is Always Funny

Necessary backstory: Every Monday in Nashua is a board-game Meet Up. This is how I met most of my friends when I moved to New England. I showed up thinking it would be three nerds playing Ticket to Ride and it turned out to be twenty awesome people (many of them nerds--like me) playing Ticket to Ride and a slew of other games.1

Among this group of players is Hal. Four and a half years later, I can say that I know Hal's name and what he does for a living. This was not true for the first two years. Though he showed up every week and we frequently sat at the same table together, the only thing I knew about him was that his name was Hal. It took me over a year to find out he came from Pepperell, MA, but we still didn't know his last name or what he did for a living.

This closely guarded information with a group of people one associates with every week can mean only one thing. Hal is in witness protection!2 This became a long-standing joke that Hal had some kind of secret information about the mob that took him from some life elsewhere and deposited him in northern New England where he played board games and didn't tell anyone anything about himself. Because if he did...HE MIGHT DIE!!!

This leads to last night's discussion. My wife and my friend Britt were discussing another person who we had known for awhile but knew almost nothing about despite efforts to the contrary. What does this mean? She's in witness protection as well!

Odd, don't you think, that two people in witness protection would be so close to one another. You'd think they'd want to space those people out so the mob doesn't stumble on all the people it wants to kill at the same time. They must be close by for a reason. What reason would witnesses have to hang out together. It's summer. It must be time for the witness protection softball league!

Just imagine, you go to the local baseball diamond for your own night of sports and fun and you play a team that spends as much time looking at the stands as they do their opposition. What's stranger is that all their jerseys have the name Smith on the back.

Weird.


1 When we say board games, we're not talking about Monopoly or something. You may have heard of Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride and those are old stalwarts. New board games are published so frequently that it is easy to say that someone can show up with a new game every week. A few members (also including me) have designed games of their own. Thurn and Taxis, Gonzaga, Dominion, Seven Wonders, Letters to Whitechapel, Tomb, Bohnanza, Wits and Wagers and on and on.

2 Appropriately known as witness security, but since he's not actually in witsec--that I know of!--we'll go with the classic witness protection

June 7, 2011

iFrames coming around

My website/blog merger is now 95% complete. I ended up keeping (but rephrasing and restructuring) the various lists of work because I find those lists help me choose what to work on next. I got rid of the book covers and blurbs and decided to save those for when I have an actual published book to sell.

So, if you are not reading this through an aggregator like Google Reader but are in fact at my blog, you will see a black panel in the top right corner that has the following links:

Backstory
Details
Character
The Other
Networking


Previously and for the past decade and a half, I have called the page I list my writing the Inkwell. Given the length of time since I actually wrote with a pen and the lack of quill imagery that I used to season my sites with, this term seemed dated. It also reminded me of a time when I did not complete or publish my writing, so something new seemed warranted. I actually dropped the page all together because of the space on that black form. One extra page for Inkwell pushed the last link to the bottom margin. And since that black panel is an image and can't be resized without redoing the entire image, I left it off.

Then I finally figured out how to incorporate iframes I have been talking about previously. Rather than incorporating an Inkwell link, I would combine the Inkwell and FAQ pages into a single page, which is what you see now on the Details page.

Now simultaneously but unrelated to the above, I decided the Biography page was boring and it would be cute to call it Backstory. This created a theme. Having a recommendations page (even though I love to share my interests and make recommendations) seemed pretentious. Those things are aspects of my character, so boom there's that title. FAQ is just details and you need details for a story. I wisely scrapped the use of Foreshadowing because that just didn't make sense anywhere. And I kind of shoe-horned in The Other talking about other people's writing. Previously named Bookshelf might have been more appropriate, but it didn't fit the theme! I'll make that square peg fit in the round hole if I have to take a hammer to it!


But anyway, let's get back to the iframes. iframe stands for inline frame. You remember frames from the early '00s right? Top banner, side navigation, and content frames. They moved us out of tables and made sites look more orderly. The problem was, they didn't resize well and pages would look weird on different screens. With the advent of mobile devices, appearance means a lot more than it did before.

An iframe is a content window like before, but rather than being separate from the element it appears in, it is part of it. It is inline. I'm going to show you how I use iframes in my website and then explain how you can use them in yours. So for this demonstration, go to my Details page. Don't try to understand this reading in Google Reader.

On the Details page you'll see an awesome picture of a kid in Seattle looking at some of the smartest graffiti ever made. And beside it, you'll see five menu items. These items are text linked with HTML and separated by non-breaking spaces. Nothing tricky involved there. Then I add a couple blank paragraphs to bush content below the image, and then I add the following code (replacing [ with < and ] with >).

[iframe name="alice" src="http://josephlselby.webs.com/html/faq.html" width="100%" height="1500"]
[p]
Your browser does not support iframes.[/p]
[/iframe]


What this has done is create an inline frame that takes up 100% of the alloted content space (in this case everything to the left of the gutter) that is 1500 pixes down the page. I named this frame "alice" as in Alice through the Looking Glass. The name is relevant for later, so keep that in mind. The src dictates which of the five menu items opens when first arrive on the Details page. In this instance, it is the FAQ content.

Now here's the first catch. iframes require HTML files and Blogger doesn't have a place that allows you to store HTML files. So you'll need some kind of other online host that lets you keep HTML files that you can access using a URL. For my purposes, I am using my old Webs website that I have recently retired. Without applying a personalized domain name, webs offers free hosting, so it's a good place to upload HTML files to reference from Blogger.

If you're intimidated by HTML, I promise that I used the most rudimentary tags to make this content, something you can learn through a beginner's tutorial.

In the above iframe code, you'll notice the line "Your browser does not support iframes. We put that there for those old and busted browsers people continue to use despite the awesomeness that is available to them today. If your browser can't read iframes, it will instead say whatever text you list there. It may be more fitting to put "Update to a real browser, jerky" and link to Chrome or Rockmelt or something. But for the time being, we're being polite.

Okay, so the code above along with the faq.html file creates the page you see when you first show up on the Details page. How do we do the rest of the menu items?

For each menu item (Novels, Short Stories, Plays, D&D, and FAQ), we link them to their respective HTML files.

[a href="http://josephlselby.webs.com/html/novels.html" target="alice"]Novels[/a]

Now, if you've learned any HTML code, it's probably how to bold, italicize, and underline. But if you've learned anything past that, it's probably how to create links. You may even have learned how to make that link open in a new tab/window by adding target="_blank". Targeting is just what it sounds, stating where you want the link to open. Other options are top, self, etc. In this case, we're targeting alice, which is the name of my iframe. You're opening the listed HTML file within the iframe.

What's even cooler is that target continues to hold true as long as you're on the page with the inline frame. So you can add links in those HTML files that ALSO target alice, which I do on the D&D page.

That's it. That's how simple iframes are. All the content on the Details page appears in iframes. And when I have a book to sell, I can create its own HTML file that can also be linked in the iframe, making everything neat and orderly and awesome.

If you have any questions, feel free to list them in the comments, and I'll see if I can answer them for you.

June 6, 2011

The Bill of Rights c.1791

The general rule is that no sign exists until after someone does what the sign instructs not to do (thus my favorite sign is "Do not lick the C-4"). You should consider the Bill of Rights to the American Constitution much like a sign. The reason why those 10 items were enumerated? Because they happened.

I bring this up because one of the most frequent mistakes I see by fantasy authors is applying modern freedoms (and specifically American freedoms) on their fantasy medieval settings. The guard comes and arrests the main character and the main character insists he cannot be arrested unless the guard tells them what he's being arrested for. Oh no, my friends, they absolutely could come and arrest you and not tell you what you were being arrested for. That's why we have an amendment that says you can't do that. Because you could do that. But now you can't.

I think the one that gets me the most is when a main character or a friend screams, "We have a right to [x]!" Son, you don't have a right to shit. You only get the rights the king provides to you and those can and will be changed when the king feels like it because he is appointed by god and/or is god and thus his will is not only a matter of rule but a matter of mandate from heaven, so you should really stop complaining that you can only hunt squirrels now.

Such mistakes are most frequently made by American writers. We're so accustomed to our freedoms being the "right" freedoms that it can be a shock when you find out that modern countries don't necessarily share such rights. (And I'm not talking about communist China, I'm talking about the United Kingdom not having the same provisions of free speech as the US. The right to free speech that we enjoy isn't enjoyed by every G-8 country in the West.)

So read over the bill of rights. Hell, read over all 27 amendments. You may not have to worry about limiting your president to two terms or prohibition, but read them for the signs they are. Until those signs were written, people did them. Soldiers lived in your home whether you wanted them to or not. Your punishment was cruel and unusual (or at least cruel, given its frequency I would assume it became usual). You don't have a right not to incriminate yourself or worship what religion you wish or assembly or a free press.

You only have the right to the law that is dictated by a single man and can be changed just as quickly (unless you've created some kind of parliamentary legal body in which case it comes from a collection of men and can be even harder to change).

Oh, and do not lick the C-4.

June 4, 2011

A Paragraph

If you read industry blogs at all, you have seen an agent or two (or two hundred) occasionally talk about reaction emails. Reaction emails are when an amateur (not an aspiring author) shows that he or she is no way emotionally ready for the challenges of publishing and may never be. They submit their query and receive a form rejection.

See now right there, that's pretty awesome. More and more agents are just not responding if they don't want to see more and I think that's lame because accidents happen and who knows if they ever received it or not (*beats the dead horse a little more*). Regardless, when you get the form rejection, that's pretty awesome. They saw your query and decided to pass. Closure.

But then these jerk offs write back and tell the agent how he/she cannot possibly conceive of the genius they have just rejected. That X number of other agents have already offered representation (which is a load of crap because no one goes from querying to partial to full in that little amount of time). And how could an agent ever think to judge one's genius by the five sample pages requested as part of the query!?!

See, I don't like that last part. I don't like any of it. When you get a rejection that's the end of it until you have something new to query. Don't be a dick. But if you think a professional in the industry needs more than five pages to gauge the quality of your work, then you're not a professional in the industry. Be thankful they gave you five pages. They probably knew the answer in the first paragraph. If you're particularly shitty at this whole thing, they knew in your first sentence.

And if you're not shitty at this whole thing, then you should be able to do the same. Critical reading is a fundamental skill and one necessary to improve your writing. When you read, you should find every crack in the paint, every loose nail in the floorboard, every over-watered cement mix in the foundation. You need to know when someone's repeating the same descriptors, using conflicting cadence, and/or showing and not telling. You need to know all these because you need to do it to yourself before you let other people read your work. You want your writing to be the best it can be so they don't waste their time finding the things you should have found but finding other things you hadn't thought of. (To which you will commit those mistakes to memory and find them on your first past the next go around, thus continuously improving until you're so awesome you cause the universe to implode from the sheer mass of your awesomeness.)

For the time being, pay someone you love (spouse, sibling, best friend). It won't cost much. Five bucks and a pizza or something. At any time they overhear you complaining that someone would love your work if they'd just read the whole thing, you have that person slap you across the face. Then say thank you, because that person is on duty, always vigilant, to bring you back to your senses. You make sure that you build the most amazing house of a novel in those sample pages, not a McMansion that would lend itself to hijinx with Tom Hanks and Goldie Hawn.

And if you think what I'm saying is harsh, keep in mind two things. First, it's late and I'm not feeling well, so my personal filter is working at half-capacity. Second, you already do this. When you read a book and that first page is utter shit. So then you go to the next page and it's even worse. It's a rare thing to keep reading a book in hopes that you'll love it only if you read to the very end. You put your much valued time toward endeavors that are worth it. You can tell by the page. You can tell by the paragraph. Perhaps even by the sentence. And so can they.

Remember that the next time you're in the mood to bitch. (Not to mention there are so many other things to bitch about! Like agents that don't even send form rejections! Or that the Canucks won game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Bruins with an off-sides goal! Priorities, people!)

June 3, 2011

Like Edinburgh, England

Let's begin here:



If you're writing in a contemporary setting, referring to certain foreign nations can rip a reader out of your story if you incorrectly describe that location because you're an American and you don't really understand how X country works. Example: United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy. It is not a republic or a democracy. While parliament forms the laws of the nation, it still has a king or queen. Bodies of the public do not automatically equal republic/democracy.

The same is true of the Netherlands. And like the video above, the Netherlands are not just Holland any more than the United Kingdom is just England. Yes Amsterdam and Rotterdam are both in Holland, but that does not dismiss the existence of the rest of the country.

Someone the other day mentioned selling his/her book to Holland and my first thought was, "It's a pity you didn't sell the foreign language rights to the rest of the country too." Imagine if that had been in a story. Boom, right out of the page. I stop emoting with your characters and start thinking about you the author and why you don't properly understand the subject you're writing about.

Know what you write, even if you just read it on Wikipedia. :)

June 2, 2011

Relax! (Go to it)

As previously mentioned, I participated in Sara Megibow's Writer's Digest webinar last week. She had a lot of good points and went over various features of her clients that caught her attention during the query process (all her clients except for one came through the slush pile). Not all the things she mentioned had to do with the author's writing. She mentioned repeatedly how impressed she was with Roni Loren's platform. Roni had started her blog before querying and had 50 followers with regular participation (replies counted in double digits, etc).

For aspiring authors who have not yet started establishing a platform or those of us *cough* me *cough* who can count responses on one hand, these kind of comments can cause some extreme anxiety. Half my twitter followers are spam bots! All my comments come from Ted Cross! Woe is me! Woe is ME!!!!

RELAX!

Stop. Breathe. Ask yourself a simple question: What matters most? The answer will ALWAYS be the same.

The writing.

Writing matters, folks. Sure we need to have a platform. Here I am blogging right now. And that's something to build up over time. But as you are working toward querying and then representation and then publishing, remember to keep your writing up front. There are plenty of things to stress about there (holy crap, this is shit! No one is ever going to want to read it!) that you don't need to pile on with worries that not enough people are commenting on your blog.

And if you want empirical proof, head over to Jane Kindred's blog/website. Jane just sold her epic fantasy in a three-book deal. Check out her followers. 14. Bam, I got her by one!

The writing always matters first.

June 1, 2011

Oh, Hubris, you so crazy

So 85% of my site migration is complete. I finally visualized how I want to display my writing. I've arranged the menu. Now I just need to handle the code and create the necessary files for that code to work. Bouncing back and forth between JavaScript and an iframe. I had been leaning to the latter, but it doesn't look the best in Blogger.

ANYWAY, that's not really what this post is about. This post is about the 15% of my site that's still missing. Why is it still missing? Answer: because I don't know if it belongs.

Now, context: When I first built my site in 2008, I was wrapping up a very successful run as a contributor to the RPGA's Living Greyhawk campaign (and before that, Living Kalamar). Some people thought listing instructions for convention requests sounded cocky of an unpublished author, but that wasn't there for my novels. That was there for D&D. I got invited to a lot of conventions. Free passes, shared rooms, etc. I toured the convention circuit hard for a few years and had a great time doing it. Let me tell you that I couldn't keep that pace today. I'm too old and busted.

So when I built my website, I was beginning the road toward professional writing. I would begin my first manuscript, BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE, a few months later and would start querying in just over a year. So, I put everything up. All the writing I had done from my last college-era play to samples of my D&D adventures to a couple of short stories, and some Living Greyhawk-themed flash fiction.

Three years later, and a lot of that feels like clutter. I haven't written a short story since I finished "Galileo Rocks the Baby" (a story I like but that needs revision to reach its full potential). LG is long gone and I don't get invited to conventions any more. I did not follow the transition to D&D 4e and have left the RPGA (and WotC's freelance staff) all together.

What's important now is my novels. But that's the rub. I don't have novels. I have manuscripts. I was okay putting up a faux cover fro BM&BBQ. I made a few of my own (crap) designs for the mss that followed. I put up blurbs from query letters. Yes, they were that crappy. None of this seemed like a bad thing because, somewhere in that arrogant little brain of mine, I figured that this next ms was the one to get me published.

You see, once I had a book to sell, all that would come down. I'd have the professionally designed cover, the back cover copy, links to Amazon, BN, and that awesome local place in Portsmouth. I'd make it super-awesome-professional. And so what if it had a few other manuscripts. I would revise them and make them super awesome ready to publish and they'd all end up there in an official capacity eventually. (And to be honest, I never thought there would be more than three up there before I had an agent. I know you shouldn't think that way, but it was a secret pride of mine that I thought I'd be different. Fool I!)

Ah naive youth. I am now working on my fifth manuscript (the sequel to my third manuscript--which means I can't even query it when I'm finished). The next ms I can query will be my sixth manuscript and by that point the page starts to look like that kid that kept trying out for sports even though he wasn't good enough to make the team.

So the missing 15% of my website is my writing. I don't know what I should and should not post. What looks like an aspiring author ready for success and what looks like an amateur author not capable of reaching a professional level?

For the moment, I'm just leaving it empty. It's a little disconcerting, but no more so than a bunch of covers and blurbs for novels that don't exist beyond my own computer.