Archive | Writing RSS feed for this section

George Washington is the most fun, ever.

22 Jan

Haven’t written anything over here for a few days, so here. Have some thoughts on George Washington. No, not that one.

This one.

This one.

Whenever I include a historical figure in the comic, I’ve tried to read as much of their own personal writings as possible. (Amelia Earhart was fantastic, by the way. I know I’ve said this before, but if she were alive today in the era of social media, she’d be killing it. Yeah yeah, she flew a plane. Whee. But did you know she addressed women’s social roles so thoroughly that she decided to start her own clothing line focused on practicality and wearability first, and appearance second, because she knew women needed to Get Shit Done? And that’s just one example and… and… Right. This is about Washington.)

Ahem.

Writing George Washington is so much fun. In the comic, his character is completely out of fucks to give. He has seen and done everything. In life, he survived betrayal, extraordinary loss, and hardships that we in this modern era can’t even imagine. Once the war was over, all he wanted to do was go sit on his farm and grow old, but no, there was this whole new country and he felt responsible for it. So he governs until he was sure it wouldn’t fall apart without him, and then he went to sit on his farm, with brief and much-resented interludes where he had to come out and make an appearance.

Can you imagine how pissed George the Ghost must have been when he died and found that the other ghosts thought he was still responsible for the country? Not only that, but he was so romanticized and heroized within society that he finds himself a super-powered ghost… an American god?

Man, he must have been pissed.

When I was first writing the ghosts into the story, I knew he’d show up. It’s a comic with the Founding Fathers in it, after all, and you cannot exclude Washington from that lineup. I had two options, and both of them would have been perfectly in character with George Washington’s in-life actions: George the Ghost could have stayed on his otherworld farm and removed himself from politics completely; or, George the Ghost could have rolled up his sleeves and started cracking heads.

I decided to go with the second option because Lincoln was the ghost who had banished himself to the afterlife. And because it was more fun. George the Ghost is great. He only looks like George Washington when he’s drawn as half-drunk and bitterly sarcastic. He only sounds like George Washington when he’s stating facts. Yeah, they’re just his opinions, but in his mind, they’re Facts.

He doesn’t like Pat. He doesn’t have to like Pat. He’s George Washington–he doesn’t have to like anybody! But if you earn his respect, he considers you a friend.

Santino asks a good question

2 Jan

I’m doing some editing on the third Rachel Peng book, and there’s a throwaway bit of dialogue that struck me as interesting. Here’s the spoiler-free version of the text:


The suspect’s face was thinner, her eyebrows altered to look further apart. Her hair was a different color and cut after she had lost the red wig, and she now sported a longish brown bob. She was wearing a trendy but loose jacket, and a pair of Armani jeans that looked painted to her body but moved easily when she walked. A stylish pair of sneakers finished the outfit: she was ready to run if she needed to.

“She knows she could be caught,” Rachel mused through the phone lines. “She’d definitely here for a reason.”

“Maybe a handoff?” Santino asked. “Is she carrying the [MacGuffin]?”

Rachel started to protest: she tried to avoid prodding around clothing and what lay beneath. Larger objects, like guns and most knives, she could pick out no problem, but they were chasing a piece of metal the size of her palm and that involved a slower, more… thorough set of scans.

“Just do it,” Santino muttered. They’d had this discussion many times before. “If you asked someone if they’d rather have you stare at their naked bodies, or pry into their minds, I bet nine times out of ten they’d rather be naked.”

“Reading emotions is not the same as reading minds,” she said, as she fine-tuned her scans to go through pockets and purses and all manner of private places. “And who’s part of a hivemind here anyway, you or me? I’d much rather have someone in my head than pawing at my body.”

“Yeah, right. Ask Zockinski which he’d rather… You know, this might be a gendered issue.”

“Jesus, Santino. Go write a paper on it.”

“Good idea!”

“Shut up,” she muttered, and this time she meant it. Her partner fell silent as they held their positions, keeping Miss Armani in sight until the police could get close enough to tag her.


So! I’ve already asked friends who identify as male or as female whether they’d rather have someone spy on their emotional status or spy on their naked body. So far, it’s been unanimously males who’d rather have someone look at their bodies, while females would rather have someone look at their emotions. But I think my sample size is too small.

If you’re okay with answering these questions, would you mind noting which type of privacy violation you are most okay with, and whether you identify yourself as male, female, or differently gendered?

Winners of GIMME BOOK! 2014

9 Dec

Thanks to all who participated in GIMME BOOK! 2014. Hopefully this is the start of a fun annual tradition. Here are the winners:

CATEGORY 1: MOST BORING

I got a lot of pictures of Post-It notes on tables and hanging from bookshelves. There were also a few that jumped out at me, but had to be disqualified. For example, I liked this one in terms of its artistic merits–the blank book with a GIMME BOOK! plea is especially meta–but it was didn’t win because there is just too much that was right about it as a photographic composition. Definitely not boring enough.

A hand-knitted afghan? YOU ARE TOO FANCY FOR THE LIKES OF US!

A hand-knitted afghan? YOU ARE TOO FANCY FOR THE LIKES OF US! WE KNOW YOU DO FUN THINGS ON FRIDAY AND SATURDAY NIGHTS!

Second prize is by J.B. This entry is yet another sittin’-onna-kitchen-table piece, but there’s something almost nihilistic about it. It’s like staring into the void, but the void wants you to file your 401K…

boring2

Your life sort of slips through your fingers while looking at this.

The first prize winner is Donovan C., who took a screenshot of my sample post and sent it in. Donovan, you are one gloriously boring dude.

He barely did better than that.

He barely did better than that.

CATEGORY 2: WEIRDEST/CLEVEREST/SWEETEST

You guys do enjoy yourselves some cute/weird. I got a lot of talking animals.

I doctored this image slightly to bring out the GIMME BOOK! Please no yelling. It's adorable.

I doctored this image slightly to bring out the GIMME BOOK! Please no yelling. It’s adorable.

I think this is an animal.(?)

I think this is another bunny. (?)

And wall hangings of talking animals.

Alpaca? Llama? Llampaca?

Alpaca? Llama? Llampaca? Alpama? Whatever. He’s in love.

And… talking Nixon heads?

Chins up, Nixon!

Chins up, Nixon! It can only get… Well, yeah.

Second prize goes to David R., who sent in a picture of himself, with a mustache added in post.

weirdest3This wins not just because of the Movember ‘stache, but because this is highest resolution I could pull from his image. As best as I can tell, the text reads: “Gimme book! I just finished re-reading all my Luis Bojod bats, I end some thunder in my life. PS – Two days ago, I’d have a hmo to shave”. Congratulations, David! I love Lois Bojod bats and shaving HMOs, too.

There was one hand-drawn image submitted. I’ll be honest: this would have won for weirdest if David F., the cartoonist, hadn’t designated it for the FUNNIEST category.

weirdest1But don’t feel too bad for David F., who still took first prize for weirdest.

The bottle of olive oil sold it.

The bottle of olive oil sold it.

I think it’s a seascape? I dunno. It’s got some kind of orange filter and a law theme floating in mid-air over a rug that has never tied any room together, ever, unless maybe there was a dentist’s waiting room in the original TRON. I have no idea what’s going on here. Well done, indeed.

CATEGORY 3: MOST GUT-BUSTINGLY FUNNY

If I’m being honest, the only photo that made me laugh out loud was Donovan’s. (I have independent confirmation on this: I showed it to Brown, who also laughed. We both appreciate Grade-A Lazy.) But two stories came in that made their pictures quite funny.

Second prize goes to Erin O., who sent in this picture:

funniest1And this story:

I put up all the sticky notes, wandered into the other room to post the picture, and then promptly forgot about them until my roommate got home and started going “Book? What book? Am I supposed to be buying you a book? Why are you telling me via sticky note??”

The first prize winner is Amanda J., who decided to recreate the scene of nekked Mare hanging from the ceiling fan using a Rapunzel doll. Except she couldn’t find the Rapunzel doll, or get her hands on anything resembling a doll-doll. She resorted to using what I think is a featureless beige sock monkey?

MA'AM YOU SEEM TO HAVE A CONTEST ENTRY WHERE YOUR FACE SHOULD BE MA'AM

MA’AM YOU SEEM TO HAVE A CONTEST ENTRY WHERE YOUR FACE SHOULD BE MA’AM

So! Thanks to everybody who participated. Winners, please email me your contact information, and I’ll have your books out when my restock of MAKER SPACE arrives next week.

Submitted with minimal comment

1 Dec

I submitted DIGITAL DIVIDE to Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award early this past year. It made it through the first rounds, but was blocked from going further. The contest is long over (I didn’t want to post this and make it into a Thing while it was ongoing), so I’ll just leave this here for you.

Highlighted section is highlighted, and mentions highlighting! Tautology

Highlighted section is highlighted, and mentions highlighting! Tautology

Because people who look “normal” have never, ever experienced harassment for being different.

Master Plans, and the Problems Therein

17 Nov

Spoilers ahead. Have you read the comic? It’s free!


It’s hard to be a supervillain. Clarice had this brilliant master plan to set herself up as a new god.

(yes, I know it's almost a line from HELLRAISER I swear you people don't know me at all...)

(…yes, I know it’s almost a line from HELLRAISER. I swear, you people don’t know me at all…)

But the ghosts who support her decided: Whoa, lady? Worldwide death and destruction? That’s a bit over the top!

Which is me wiggling out on the story I had planned to tell.

I wanted to follow through on Clarice’s master plan. It’d be great! It’d be entirely in keeping with her character, and within the rules of the universe. Essentially, it’s drawing on the premise that fame is a form of energy. Fame is remarkably similar to belief. It’s an investment of thought and attention, and if it is sustained over enough time, its target can draw upon this energy.

But fame is fleeting. Even U.S. presidents fall out of active memory. Benjamin Franklin and George Washington are among the most powerful ghosts in American history because everybody knows who they were, but Calvin Coolidge? The poor guy is relegated to “Worst President” lists and the occasional bad joke. If he’s lucky.

If Clarice spent the rest of her natural life setting herself up as a highly controversial figure who broke the modern world, she’d never be forgotten. (Or at least, not within the span of modern civilization, because Ozymandias, but she’ll take what she can get and then orchestrate her legacy from the grave.) This is what Clarice should have done.

But she couldn’t, because while she’s vicious and amoral and would think nothing of worldwide genocide to further her own ends, she’s also a character in a webcomic that updates twice a week. The medium through which her story is told cannot sustain that type of decades-long plot. It’d take sixty years of machinations to get Clarice to a point where she’d be poised at the brink of winning, and then-spoiler!-our heroes would finally pull their last-minute save out of their collective butts and send her to Hell.

Our very, very old heroes. As drawn by a very tired, and probably as equally old, me.

Couldn’t be done. Just in terms of audience attrition alone, I’d be ending a story followed by maybe sixteen hardcore readers (hi guys!). The characters themselves would have aged significantly, and their traits changed accordingly. It’d be sort of neat to carry a story through the length of their lives, and get into the nuts and bolts of political and religious plotting, the outcome of major plagues and nuclear fallout, the societal and cultural issues raised by coping with a reduced population…  Well.

Writers tell similar long-term story arcs all of the time, but they don’t have to draw it out on a per-update basis. I can (and often do) spend three weeks on a brief interaction between two characters. A webcomic is not the right format for this type of story. Judge Dredd might be able to pull it off, but me? Not so much.

I’ve known about this problem for ages, and wrote myself a series of outs, just in case I decided to abandon one storyline and jump to another. There’ve been some hints that the ghosts who allied with Clarice weren’t cool with the whole global chaos/genocide thing. Now, it seems they’ve asked her to tone it down a notch or they’ll pull their support.

So, Clarice isn’t getting her long-running Master Plan. She’s forced to make do with something fast and dirty. Something also in keeping with her character but better suited to a comic format.

*sigh*

I’m sad I don’t get to play with mass murder, but there’ll be other opportunities.





Excerpt: Introducing Speedy

24 Sep

I’m roughing out the structure of a Hope Blackwell novel. The Rachel Peng series will have neither ghosts nor koalas; this Hope Blackwell novel will have both. Here’s Speedy’s introduction. As always, this is a draft and will be fine-tuned for phrasing and punctuation if I decide to take it through publication.

For readers of the novels who aren’t also readers of the comic, I’ll also note that Hope has ADD and swears like a sailor on fire.

_______________________________________________

There was too much sun when I woke up.

The curtains are open, my subconscious informed the rest of me. You closed them when you went to bed, and Sparky wouldn’t have opened them, not when you went to sleep at dawn…

My body didn’t want to be awake, and it told my subconscious to shut up and deal with it. The cunning application of pillow to eyeballs would solve this problem. The pillow didn’t even have to be moved. No, I could just turn over, and—

My subconscious had me up and rolling into a zenpo kaiten before I could drop back into sleep. I was halfway across the bedroom before the crowbar crashed into the exact spot on the pillow where my head had been.

Let me tell you about sugar.

My high school history teacher used to say that sugar was the catalyst for the Industrial Revolution. I checked his dates and he was off by a few decades, but sugar plus coffee did hit Great Britain right around the time that steam engines finally got their act together. Imagine that for a second: the British and stimulants, together at last!

Shit got done.

Now, let me tell you about koalas.

Cute? Yes. Cuddly? Definitely. Stupider than rocks? Fuck yes. They have some of the least-developed brains in the mammalian kingdom. Their brains are so tiny that they’re basically bobbing around in the koala’s skull. When a koala does manage to process a thought, it’s almost always focused on one of three basic drives. They eat, sleep, and procreate, and they do this with the literal single-mindedness of a brain capable of holding one thought at a time.

They are fairly durable, though. If you were a mad scientist who wanted to poke at a blank slate of a brain and see if you could enhance intelligence, you couldn’t pick a better test subject than a koala.

Except, around your third koala, you’d realize that the animal’s metabolism is causing problems. The creatures only eat eucalyptus, and when they’re not eating or fucking, they’re asleep. So you start to tinker with the koala genome so they can live on a variety of plants, and don’t need to sleep twenty-two hours a day.

At Koala No. 4, you decide to see if you can also get them to metabolize grains. Fresh vegetation is hard to find, but every supermarket has a cereal aisle.

By Koala No. 17, you’ve gotten the process nailed down. Brains, guts, everything works. You start to test the limits on what can be done to a koala’s brain. Under the right conditions, can a koala become as intelligent as a dog? A monkey? A great ape?

These experiments go great. So great, you run into communication problem. It’s harder to test the intelligence of animals that can’t vocalize or mimic sign language. You decide to tinker with their vocal cords.

Finally, you get to Koala No. 26. This one’s a total dud. Every single modification went right—better than on any previous test subject, really!—but the animal is a lump of stupid squeaking fur. You decide to euthanize and start from scratch.

Except Koala No. 26 beats you to it. The little bugger has been playing dumb all along. You’re proud of him, probably, in the instant before he shoots you between the eyes with your own gun.

Young Koala No. 26 then spent a rough couple of days running scared in suburban Missouri before he was captured. And escaped. And captured, and escaped, and captured, and escaped, and captured… and finally, a certain government agency got news of this “speedy devil” that could find a way out of any cage. They took him away to one of those subterranean buildings that form the stuff of nightmares, and performed unspeakable tests to discover he had about 200 IQ points more than the average Harvard graduate.

Koala No. 26 sat in a cage and broke codes for years. Sparky rescued him. This… um. Yeah. This probably wasn’t the best decision Sparky’s ever made. It’s not like he could release this koala into the wild, or even put him in a zoo. For a while, he made sure the koala had his own apartment. These days, the koala lives with us.

I love the little fucker, I do, but let’s face facts. If the entire Industrial Revolution was the outcome of moderately caffeinated cultural sugar high, a superintelligent animal with three all-encompassing drives and regular access to Cap’n Crunch becomes its own force of nature.

And he is an asshole.

Never-Ending List of Things to Do, September Edition

5 Sep

Planning out the next couple of months, and thought you might like a glimpse of the schedule.

Art Projects

I try to do comic-related charitable donations, and this year I’m redoing the Mangina Kaiju slapdash art for a print. I thought long and hard about which charity should get the donations. Ideally, it’d be a women’s-centered organization, but there’s this thing called the Internet in which every single decision you make is dissected down to its bones and found lacking, and I didn’t want to promote any Stupid (e.g.: implying women are monsters, implying men are monsters, implying the female reproductive system shall rise from the sea and throttle us all and aaaaaah!). So all proceeds will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Association, which is a cause near and dear to my heart. Fuck Alzheimer’s.

Also, Halloween is coming up. I try to do some sort of art pinup. This year, I’m thinking some members of the comic’s cast dressed as characters from Penny Dreadful, but I’m still open to suggestions.

Novels

The third Rachel Peng novel has a title, and the cover art is in draft stage.

I’m still playing around with the idea of releasing a Hope Blackwell novel at the same time. These books would deal with one or two of the same plot elements and events would align chronologically, but from the perspectives of Rachel (no ghosts) and Hope (all of the ghosts, oh God so many ghosts). With Patreon as a supplemental salary, it is more likely that I can afford to take the time to do this than it was a few months ago. However, this would push the release of both books back until mid-2015.

Patreon

Beyond awesome. Simply beyond awesome. I’m eating so much crow about this, and it is delicious crow! You were right, I was wrong, and I hope you’re happy!

Now, what to do with all of these collected dick jokes? I want to release the older, stale ones that Patreon supporters have already seen to encourage newcomers to become supporters themselves. I’m leaning towards a Tumblr account that receives a huge batch update of dick jokes every three months or so, but I’m open to suggestions. My rationale for using a Tumblr is that it’s got zero overhead, requires minimum time investment, and gets massive traffic and reblogs. Any other ideas?

Kickstarter

Digital Divide is done, but Maker Space is still in recording phase. Summer was a rough time for my family, and also for the woman who is doing the reading for the audiobooks. We’re likely going to resume recording on Maker Space later this month.

I’m arting all of the arts on the other Kickstarter gifts, so hopefully I can get these out in one large push.

Giveaways

Several generous people purchased extra copies of Digital Divide and Maker Space and told me to donate these to readers in need. I’d like to do something nice, but the usual “Retweet this to be entered in my contest!” is both annoying and dull. How about a Post-It contest? Write GIMME BOOK! on a Post-It and send in a photograph of where you stuck it… I dunno. That’s the best I’ve got right now.

I Know I’m Forgetting Something

I know I’m forgetting something.

I’m Totally Forgetting Something

Yeah, I’m aware.

Seriously, This Is Going To Bug Me All Day

I’m just gonna hit Publish now, okay?

Let the Pimpslaps Fly

15 Aug

The latest skirmish in Amazon vs Hachette happened while I was on the road, which worked out well for me, as I was forced to spend five days as passive observer to the initial volley and the subsequent Category 5 Opinionstorm. I’m actually grateful for this, as when I got home I had already read the email Amazon sent out to its Kindle authors; if I had seen it raw in my inbox for the first time, I probably would have roared and said Things I Would Regret Later.

Seriously. It’s not a very good email. It’s insulting and pandering, and when I asked Brown to read it, he said: “Amazon did know they were sending this to writers, right? Because I’m taking a heavy beating from these metaphors.” You can read the full text for yourself here. If you don’t want to read it (don’t blame ya!), the takeaway argument is that readers (and yet somehow the primary audience for this email was authors who publish on Amazon…) need to come together and put pressure on Hachette to lower its ebook prices.

They referenced Orwell.

The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

They referenced Orwell several times, actually, which is a huge warning sign to me because Orwell is synonymous with the little guy fighting against a giant oppressive force. Also? That giant, oppressive force tends to be a self-interested douche. Whoever wrote that email/press release seems to have intentionally misrepresented Orwell. Amazon could have chosen better, stronger quotes from any number of Orwell’s contemporaries to support their position, but Orwell wasn’t picked by accident. There’s never any subtlety when the O-bomb is dropped: it instantly creates the impression of conflict between good and bad, oppression and freedom, mind control and free will… It’s a trigger warning that an emotional argument is underway.

I can’t stand emotional arguments. I make them myself, and I’m as susceptible to them as anybody else, but if I’m being called in as part of Amazon’s own personal army, I’d like there to be a little more logic involved. Crowdfury is an exceptionally useful tool, especially for smaller persons and companies who do not have lawyers and publicists on staff. As one of those smaller persons and/or companies, I know firsthand that you do not release that particular Kracken unless there is no other choice. Crowdfury is nigh impossible to control, and can turn on you in a heartbeat because nobody likes to be used.

Don't knock the militant cuttlefish. Those buggers are small but grumpy.

Don’t knock the militant cuttlefish. Those buggers are small but grumpy.

Which seems to be what is happening here. There’s been a substantial backlash to Amazon’s call to arms for this exact reason. No number of invocations of the ghost of Big Brother can change the fact that they are a giant organization with entire battalions of lawyers and publicists. They do not need us to fight their battles for them.

I am not obligated to go to war for Amazon. I provide content to Amazon, they provide services to me, and that is the end of that. And they are arguably less accountable to me than to some of the other service providers I’ve worked with: my relationship with Amazon has the illusion of transparency, as I can check my stats to see if my books are selling, but I can’t request additional data to verify these sales have occurred. I have to trust that Amazon’s algorithms are working, and that there is a 1:1 ratio between actual sales and reported sales. (I have no reason to doubt this is exactly what happens, but I can’t read an article about ebook price-fixing without thinking, “Hmmm…”)

I’m probably not alone in saying I would fight their battles with them if saw a righteous cause. I happen to like Amazon. They have provided great opportunities for me and many other self-published authors. I like the quality of the paperbacks they print for me. And I love the way their monthly payments arrive on time! If I saw another company actively threatening Amazon, I’d probably go and get my old plowshare and start hammering it back into shape. However, that’s not what’s happening here. Amazon’s existing business model is not being threatened, and many (most) of the points they have made to support their anti-Hachette arguments have been disputed.

Each of Disney's lawyers is formed from a minimum of five smaller lawyers.

Each of Disney’s lawyers is formed from a minimum of five smaller lawyers.

By pushing this campaign, Amazon has made itself vulnerable. Best-selling authors are ten kinds of grumpy with them. And it’s quite possible that they have overextended themselves in going up first against Hachette, and then against Disney. (Disney, people!) Google Shopping Express, the fledgling Google/Barnes & Noble partnership, sees Amazon’s fight against Hachette as an opportunity. Since nearly a third of my income comes from Amazon. I’m watching all of this play out very, very closely.

p.s.: It seems a good time to offer up a new take on old advice. Here! I’ve redone the Orwell poster for you, free!

Follow the link below to download a free copy at Gumroad.

Thanks to the Guilford College library staff for letting me photograph their stack of old Orwells.

Download your own copies here. The .zip has two convenient print file sizes (4.5″x6″ and 8″x10.5″). If you want it in a larger size on heavy paper stock, let me know and I’ll see if I can get it into the store.

Self-publishing Cover Shenanigans

27 Jul
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAW!

If you say “shenanigans” three times in the mirror, Brian Cox will appear and ask you why he hasn’t won an Oscar.

This is a post about self-publishing, and why Maker Space has been available since March in ebook form but took until Thursday to finally become available as an actual book.

I’m aware that some of you reading this are traditionally published authors (hi Jean!), and I am assuming that some of you are self-published (are author-published, practice artisinal publishing, engage in the craft of putting out your own writing…Ugh. Some days you just want to hit the terminology with a baseball bat and use what’s left of the pulpy mess when you’re done.). If you keep up with the publishing community in any way, you’re aware there is some controversy over which method of publishing best benefits the author. This argument can be boiled down to money and control.

Money is a big one. Royalties, obviously, but there’s also who foots the final cost of the product. Self-publishing is not cheap. Rephrase: self-publishing where the end result is a quality product is not cheap. (If you have not yet searched for “dinosaur erotica” on Amazon, please do so.*) If you pursue traditional publishing, the publisher is responsible for taking your manuscript and creating a finished product. They are also responsible for advertising, shipping, and the other elements of successful books.

At first blush, the issue of control sounds fairly simple. It asks: who maintains control over your work? If you are traditionally published, you turn over control of your work when you submit the finished manuscript. Elements of control, such as who holds the copyright and when it reverts to you, are (should be) established in your contract. The publisher is also responsible for advertising, shipping, and… Yes. That. Money and control are entwined.

I come from webcomics, and I’ve been putting out content for the better part of a decade. This has worked out pretty well for me, because I’m one of those weirdos who enjoys the process of taking my product from raw, unfinished ideas and shepherding them through the final stages. If you just did that thing where you said, “control freak” and pretended to hide it behind a cough? Thank you! When you’re responsible for putting out your own content, you are your own quality control expert, and nobody’s going to buy your shit if it looks like shit.

There are so many challenges/problems with this I can’t even, by the way. The learning curve is steep and expensive and frustrating… There are products you’re so excited to make that you forget to assess costs (case in point: the saga of the Speedy plush). There are designs you send to press and then, years later, your husband takes That One Shirt out of the closet and now you’re embarrassed that he’d still consider wearing it. To do yardwork! So, yeah, it can be horrible, and if you’re not careful, you stand a very good chance of losing a lot of money on products that won’t sell.

MAKER SPACE was the Jefferson Memorial. Jefferson was a maker, so this seemed appropriate.

MAKER SPACE was the Jefferson Memorial. Jefferson was a maker, so this seemed appropriate.

But it also can be wonderful, as you get more flexibility to work within the scope of your own ideas. The Rachel Peng novels were intended as a series. Seven books, with one overarching plot driving events. With that in mind, I wanted a single thematic cover design to carry over from book to book, so they’d look like a set when sitting on a shelf. Rose Loughran, who does the webcomic Red Moon Rising, is the cover artist: each book features a different landmark from Washington, D.C. The jacket design reflects the colors in Rose’s landscape painting. DIGITAL DIVIDE was all reds and golds, with MAKER SPACE in blues, purples, and grays.

Rose does the painting for the cover art, but I do content, text layout, and everything else. The cover layout for DIGITAL DIVIDE was delicious cake, and I had no serious problems getting this first book through printing. Since MAKER SPACE was the same size and on the same thematic template, I didn’t think it would be different.

/casts summon problems

I use CreateSpace as my printer. It’s owned and operated by Amazon, so do with that what you will: hopefully, all self-publishers–heck, let’s go with absolutely everybody–is aware that using Amazon and its affiliates comes with baggage. Most of this baggage is tiny and maneuverable and needs very little management within the day-to-day of your busy schedule… but then there’s that steamer trunk that’s about to crush your grandma and her local bookstore. I’ve got my reasons for using it, and one of those is that CreateSpace generates high-quality books at a reasonable price. Copies fresh off of the CreateSpace press are as sturdy as anything you’d receive from a traditional printing press, and the cover resolution is high. My husband has a loupe left over from when he used to work in printing which we use to check for DPI resolution on my products, and CreateSpace does right by Rose’s paintings.

So, right before MAKER SPACE was supposed to hit, I submit the cover to CreateSpace and order a proof copy. Cue shenanigans.

AAAAAAAAAW!

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAW!

I think I ordered eight proofs in total over four months. Each time I got the copy back, there was something wrong with the cover. The color printed dark: the first two versions were purple-blue blobs. After tinkering to lighten it up, some of the colors didn’t match each other. And when I finally got the colors right, the whole cover had somehow jumped a quarter-inch to the left and the spine was misaligned.

These proofs weren’t free, by the way. CreateSpace charges me per item, same as you. I get a discount because it’s my content, but the endless proof-chain did set me back close to $70**. Now, if I were published by a traditional printer, I would have had a nice box of ARCs shipped to me prior to publication, free of charge and to distribute as I want. But I wouldn’t have had any say whatsoever in choosing the cover art, or its design, or the text on the back, or the pull quotes for the cover… Easier, less expensive (for me)? Definitely!

And I would have felt as though I had been excluded from part of the process.

Such exclusion is arguably a good thing. I might enjoy controlling the development of a product, but that doesn’t mean I’ve got specialized skills in cover design, font selection, or so on. I think the final layout of the book cover is solid; it could probably be better. In ten years, I might look back on the Rachel Peng covers like those ratty old embarrassing tee shirts in the back of the closet.

Today? I enjoy what I do and how I do it, and I’m better at it than when I started. Life’s a process, too.

 

*I am not suggesting that all dinosaur erotica is of terrible quality. I am merely saying that I have judged these books by their hastily Photoshopped covers, and by titles such as Turned Gay by Dinosaurs.

**Always figure in shipping and handling. Always.

Who Made Us Gatekeepers?

9 Jun

Hi guys! Today’s comic touches on gatekeepers and technology. It’s a theme that figures heavily in the next Rachel Peng novel*, but won’t get too much more time in the comic. I pulled a segment from the upcoming novel if you’d like a sneak peak. It’s set in Mako’s office, where he and Santino have been hard at work to make the chip user-friendly. They haven’t made much progress.

As always, this is a rough draft. There’s no need to point out errors!

_________________________________________________

“We don’t know what the long-term effects will be,” Mako said. “Five, ten years from now? I might have the most splendid of brain cancers.” He rapped a superstitious knuckle on the wooden desk.

“But say the implant is safe.” Santino picked up the conversation. “Say Mako and I find a way to put controls on what data it can access, and there are no medical side effects whatsoever. Why wouldn’t everyone want one?”

“I…” Rachel flapped her hands uselessly. Because they shouldn’t! was one of those arguments that wouldn’t go her way at all. “They probably would.”

“They absolutely would! It’s the next generation of smart phones. More utility, more capacity—”

“Farmville in your head,” Mako added. “Major selling feature, right there.”

“—and don’t forget the collective.”

“No.” Rachel shuddered. “God, no! It’s bad enough with just us. There’s no way I’m going to add every single Verizon customer to my psyche.”

“Exactly,” Mako said. “So, we’ve got a lot of bugs to work out. Damping down the communal elements of the collective is almost as important as making sure the average schmuck can’t take control of a nuke. It’s not going to happen any time soon.”

“It will happen, though,” Santino said. “Eventually. Then the really big problems will start to show up.”

“Don’t.” Rachel held up a hand. “Just don’t.”

The men ignored her. “The implant isn’t cheap,” Santino continued. “What was it, about ten million per item?”

“If you figure in research and development costs, yeah,” Mako said. “But production costs are still incredibly high. It’s a quantum organic computer, so you’ve got to grow each device so it’ll be compatible with its user. Not everybody will be able to afford that.”

“Barely anybody, really. Just the upper class.”

“And then you’ve got a society where the wealthy are blended into their tech.”

“Not to mention each other—we might be able to downplay the role of the link, but there’ll always be some element of collective consciousness involved. So it wouldn’t be the usual issue of the Haves and the Have-nots… This’ll be one where there’s a small group of people who are intrinsically connected to each other, and to the tech which runs the world.”

“And those outside of the new collective will be a fuck-all ginormous group of people who won’t be allowed to sit at the cool kids’ table.”

Ever. It’ll be a whole new dimension to the usual stratified societies.”

“Jesus.” Rachel looked around for an uncluttered surface. When she didn’t find one, she dropped on the floor and put her head in her hands, the familiar scratching of a stress headache beginning behind her eyes. “This is what the two of you do in your spare time? Sit around and discuss how we’re going to destroy civilization?”

“Pretty much,” Mako said, shrugging. “Or save it, really, if we can find ways to kill these problems before they get traction.”

“OACET didn’t invent the implant. Who decided we were the gatekeepers for this clusterfuck?”

“You did.” Santino was an unpleasant combination of smug pink and jealous green. “Going public put a face on it.”

_________________________________________________

*Really have to come up with a title for this one.