Friday, January 31, 2014

The Starter Guide for Professional Writers is Complete! Completely Complete!

After a grueling morning formatting session, I am pleased to announce that the Starter Guide for Professional Writers has been submitted to CreateSpace for approval and will be going to the Kindle Store, Smashwords, and Omnilit within the next few days.

I'm mostly exhausted, but also pretty pleased.

Because of a number of illustrations among the text, I have to do the ebook formatting very carefully--wish me luck! But the print files are as clean as I can make them, and no errors have turned up in the autocheck process. The files will be approved within the next 24 hours, or sent back to me for yet more formatting. Fingers crossed.

I'm genuinely sorry and frankly embarrassed at the length of time it has taken me to complete writing, editing, and formatting this book. Yet I am also reminded how likely we are to overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a year. A year ago today I had no clue I would ever write a guide to publishing! And completing and editing a 97,000 word manuscript within seven months is actually the fastest I've ever worked! 

Thanks are in order once again to all of my crowdfunding campaign donors--your reward copies are my first priority as the book goes to press. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

For Everyone Misspelling My Name: Thank You!

Yet another misspelling--on an address label, of all things--has sparked this...let's not call it a rant. Let it be, rather, inspiration.

All my life, my name has been misspelled, mispronounced, and just generally misunderstood. Mispronunciations I can understand. In a quick conversation, the balance of probability suggests you were just introduced to Theresa, rather than a more uncommon variety. Given the sheer number of people who read Teh-rez in the French manner off my nametag, I'm even willing to conclude my parents just named me wrong (a soul-searching monologue on this topic delivered over dinner with friends at Chicago TARDIS received the sympathetic reply, "Yeah, Teh-rez isn't that hard to say, either!"). But I'll admit when people tell me they expected my name to be pronounced Teh-reh-say, I'm curious about what their linguistic background is, and even more curious about what they think mine is (as it happens, this potentially interesting discussion tends to end with the realization that we both share a cultural background, which is just sort of weird).

Misspellings, though, are weirder. Of course, the boy who wrote a valentine to "Trees" in second grade was just being phonetic. But when people, most of whom have never met me in person nor heard my name aloud, are writing emails to me, or social network messages, or copying my address down from an online order--in short, when they are in a position where my name is probably directly in front of them onscreen...

This may just be a sign that I need to clean out my inbox & folders more often...

I don't want to make this out to be a particularly big deal. It happens to many people with far more common names than mine, it happens far more often to people whose names are even less common, and it doesn't actually impact my quality of life. Nobody is doing it with malicious intentions.

Still, especially when I was younger, I'd feel...not hurt, but perhaps a bit slighted. And perplexed. The thing is, as a natural introvert and a very shy young lady on top of that, I have been known to work drafts of emails for hours or even days, sweating over each sentence and rereading the To:, From:, and Subject lines until my vision goes blurry.

And in contrast, here was someone who seems not to have as much as double-checked my name.

I now understand things a little better. I understand that when your inbox has fifteen or twenty (or god forbid, even more) emails that all require prompt replies, the most well-intentioned people will use a little less scrutiny than required for perfection. Communication will be sufficient, but not ideal. Mental shortcuts are made. Fingers slip on the keys.

Certainly, I myself have wound up calling Erika, Erica, and addressing the wrong Sara/h and Elis(z)abeth.

It's very comforting to know that I can, and it's not the end of the world.

And I can be reassured by the fact that I am sinned against as much as sinning--I've been on the other side of a malapropism in address, and I survived, and my good opinion of the person addressing me has (usually) remained intact. Failing that, perhaps forgiving those who trespass against my name will earn cosmic brownie points, and forgiveness for my own trespasses in turn.

In short, it gives me the guts to risk slipping up.

In a related bit of perspective (collecting doses of perspective is a hobby of mine, it seems), the Economist reports that internal research by Hewlett-Packard reveals that most male jobseekers will apply for positions even when they meet only 60% of the stated requirements. Women, who are more calculated--perhaps overcalcualted--in their approach, only apply for more complete matches. Sheryl Sandberg, as quoted in the article, thinks this is a way in which women are held back in business. I don't disagree--part of me wonders how many men are actually hired with 60% qualifications, but then that very part might be the questioning, doubt-hampered alter ego that holds me back myself!

But again: I can be baffled by these foolhardy average male jobseekers, or even irritated (as I'm sure somebody in human resources is). I could become quite jealous--even if they're not getting jobs, they are probably enjoying other fruits of such self-confidence. Instead, I shall choose to feel inspired. We can all be a little less neurotically careful, and more open to important opportunities.

Speaking of which, last week I submitted my resume and had an interview with a staffing agency in downtown Washington, D.C. Before the day was over they'd submitted my resume (with a few typos caught and corrected) to a temp-to-hire position in publications. No word has come back yet, but I already feel much better to be working alongside some professionals at finding jobs I'm suited for. I guess there are multiple cures for confidence-undermined-job-seeking-blues.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book Reviews: Hear No Evil, Citizen Science, and The Grey Star

A sort of rapid-fire round of book reviews this week, thanks to Christmas reading!

1. Be the Change: Saving the World Through Citizen Science by Chanda Clarke

Though short (33 PDF pages), this was very readable and informative--it's designed to teach the principles of citizen science/crowdsourced science to people who have never heard of it before. Now, I'd heard the term before and had vaguely positive associations, but couldn't explain it to you if you asked me. When I saw this ebook offered in a LibraryThing giveaway I pounced, because hey, KNOWLEDGE.


Citizen science consists of research, data-crunching, information gathering, processing, analysis, and funding that is crowdsourced among volunteers, many of whom aren't any sort of expert. Willingness is key. Fittingly, Be the Change is written with an enthusiastic, persuasive tone--sometimes a bit too much so. I felt like I was reading a pamphlet at times, and I suspect one of the major goals of this book is to get people to check out Clarke's website Citizen Science Center.

But it did succeed in making me feel more knowledgeable and more interested in citizen science. This is not only because of my minor obsession with crowdfunding, but possibly because I'm a science fiction fan, or at least so Clarke theorizes when she suggests the popularity of sci-fi shows, movies, books, and games reflects a greater interest in science proper among audiences. I think for me the relationship is more vice-versa--I enjoy the science fiction and fantasy aesthetic, and my interest in science is secondary and meant to help me better hone that enjoyment. It may be a chicken-and-egg problem.

In order of volunteer effort required, Clarke breaks down a number of projects and methods for supporting them, including crowdfunding, distributed computing, web-based science, and apps. Some of this reminds me of Mechanical Turk's "hits" or microtasks--small jobs that require human intelligence (so they can't be automated or computerized), but don't demand much in the way of expertise, and would frankly be a drain on the productivity of a qualified scientist. Enter your ordinary citizen/science fan. To keep people motivated, many of these projects are "gamified," using point systems to provide psychological rewards.

And some of these projects just seem like cool things to be involved with. The Baby Laughter project, which collects "field reports" of babies giggling in the wild to refine scientist's understanding of cognitive development, sounds adorable. And the Human Memone project, which collects information about health and memes, is both fascinating and kind of punny. Although I can't quite determine what their working definition of "meme" is, and if I have to fill out a survey of every meme I've ever seen on Tumblr or my Facebook feed I'd be very old before I finished.


2. Hear No Evil by Terry Persun
A prize from the LibraryThing early reviewer's program, one I'm ridiculously late in reviewing. It's just that I don't feel like I have much to say.

Hear No Evil

After the ship they're piloting over a newly colonized planet explodes, Brandon and Palmer find out they're part of a broader conspiracy to take over the planet.  Along with the native colonists, and with the dubious assistance of a mysterious alien race aliens, they decide to fight back.

This is a story I feel like I should have loved: space opera with an element of mystery, a genuinely interesting alien race (telepaths who appear deceptively, disturbingly human--a psychological Uncanny Valley), a love subplot that isn't strained and includes a well-rounded female character. The problems surrounding a struggling space colony, especially one on a planet already inhabited by an intelligent species, have a lot of potential. But in the end, I could never really get into it. The politics were perplexing and overlooked in favor of lots of action interspersed by occasional dialogue scenes that never seemed to clear anything up. Sometimes I caught myself skimming for pages on end. I perked up whenever the aliens appeared, but their plotline also didn't feel very strong. I can't even recall how it concluded.

I finally wrote up these halfhearted paragraphs for fear that if I delayed them any longer, I'd forget the plot of the book entirely. It would probably benefit from a rereading, and I might do that now that I have an ereader (reading on a computer screen may have encouraged me to skim, but I've written thousands of words reviewing other ebooks read on a computer before now). But I guess "it just didn't grip me" is a review, too.

Barnes & Noble

3. The Grey Star by James Bartholomeusz

One last prize from a LibraryThing giveaway. I entered on a whim, because the title seemed interesting and also the author's last name had a Z in it. Put that way, I sound awfully flippant, but the fact is I knew absolutely nothing about this book going in. There was barely any description on the LibraryThing page. The advanced review copy's back cover informed me it was a Young Adult Trade Paperback, 316 pages, release date December 2013, and part of the Seven Stars Trilogy.


In fact, it is the third book in the genrebusting Seven Starts Trilogy (as I learned upon seeing the title page for "Part V"). But once I started reading, I was lost no longer--plenty of background info is filled in the first few chapters, enough that I was confident of being able to follow. A cosmic war between the Apollonians and Dionysians, a chosen Ubermensch leading a plucky band of young teenagers on their quest to collect 7 shards of the Risa Star. The opening chapter, though, managed to be evocative while resisting the urge to infodump too much, instead offering us an enticing conversation between a fox with "only" two tails, and a hooded figure coping with the fallout of his Face-Heel Turn.

Actually, a number of characters in this story underwent a Face-Heel turn. The revelation of what happened to Ubermensch Jake's best friend Alex was fairly predictable. But then came the revelation of the true nature of the many-tailed fox Inari and the true nature of the Risa Star Shards themselves. That was a delightfully unpleasant surprise and added an air of cosmic horror to what had been a fairly standard, though entertaining, quest fantasy. Of course, given the obvious Neichschze references, plus quotes of Yeat's The Second Coming, maybe I should have had my suspicions.

I do wonder what readers of the first two books will feel about this. Betrayed? Did they already have hints strewn before them? This may be a trilogy whose third book is kindest to readers who dive in media res! In any case, I really enjoyed the twist, and finished the book rapidly with a new sense of suspense for the characters and their worlds.

My favorite parts: Alex (despite the fact that both revelations about him failed to completely surprise me. As for the latter, I'd like to compare with other readers to see if I was actually picking up hints, or my tendency to read certain characters as LGBT struck upon a lucky coincidence this time), the Grey Sage (although having the nickname "Sage" myself made me do a double-take a number of times), and Lucy's plotline, which is a great deconstruction of the aftermath of your average portal fantasy. Of course, this entire story is something of a deconstruction. Yet it reconstructs, too, and comes out in the end as something more complex than a war of good against evil, yet is still true to its roots, and left at least this reader highly satisfied.

Because it's an advanced review copy I can't really say much about prose & typos, although "to be" gets overused (yes, after a while you can notice this even in pleasure reading)--but on the other hand, there is a great splash page around the story climax, which was cool to see in a mostly-prose, yet highly visual, story.

Barnes & Noble

Friday, January 17, 2014


"No news is good news."

A cliche tells you very little, almost nothing on the literal level. But from my choice of cliche, you might infer that I am suffering writer's block on this blog post, either from lack of interest or lack of content, and yet I am rather content.

This is not untrue.

I'm going through a phase where blogging and social chit-chat do not seem particularly easy for me. My opinions and experiences have not seemed worth writing much about, certainly not expending much eloquence over. It's been a quiet beginning of the year. While I am writing and expending eloquence, it is not here.

This is a good thing. For one thing, while I am resisting the pressure to be interesting (not unique to academics, although my understanding is that in academia the pressure is much more forceful), I am accomplishing many things off-internet.

I've met both my monthly goals for this first month of 2014--completing a short story, and meeting my goals for editing work. There's also been some welcome attention towards my Fiverr gigs, and my account only needs a handful more before leveling up and being able to offer Gig Extras and other perks.

This week I've signed on with a temping agency in Washington, D.C., providing a welcome infusion of optimism into my job search. When I do start a position, both my writing and my editing may scale down, but we'll see. I might do as other writers I know have done and start working during my commute (rather than reading, as I do now. Of course, reading is exercise for a writer, too).

On that note, one thing I can do on this blog, and should be doing a bit more, frankly, is book reviews. I have a minor backlog of LibraryThing and Goodreads giveaway prizes to complete and compose my thoughts on.

Lastly, as always, just because I'm not blogging here doesn't mean I'm not blogging. Some Fridays at Amani I write in-depth examinations of Fair Trade principles and the future of the movement. One such will be coming up soon, after a refreshing discussion with the new intern about distinctions among Fair Trade and other sustainable approaches.

Other days, DC is going through a cold phase and I just want to talk about all your options with regards to Fair Trade hot chocolate.

Monday, January 6, 2014

News for the New Year

It seems absurd to get jet lag from the 1-hour flight from Milwaukee back to DC, even if the flight did include a harrowing forty five minutes waiting on the runway for nonspecific technical anomalies to be repaired. But I've definitely been feeling laggy these first few days of 2014. But never mind. The sun is up, a sudden rain last night washed away every spot of snow in the District (this is downright creepy to a Midwesterner), and I'm sort of up for blogging.

I hadn't been homesick much in 2013, but after 2 weeks back in Wisconsin in which I got to reunite with friends and family I haven't seen enough of, it's strange to be so far away from them. Maybe that's part of the 'lag' I'm feeling. Happily, I have the internet and Skype.

Before 2013 was over, I got to go rock climbing, experiment in making syllabub, and unwrapped my first ereader, a Nook HD+. Yes, it's positively huge for an ereader, but that means I can go through PDFs and browse the internet--though I'm trying to keep that latter distraction to a minimum. 'Paging' through ebooks by tapping the touchscreen rather than scrolling will be a welcome relief to my scrolling finger, which has gotten downright achy during my past few manuscript reviews.  Using Calibre, I've also been able to convert MS Word documents into .epub files, which meant I got to read a manuscript while stranded on the runway in Milwaukee. At least the time wasn't completely wasted!

Progress on Starter Guide revisions and formatting continues, including more research and practice with the use of Calibre for converting files. I also have a few more notes to make on ebook marketing from the reader's perspective (I've read something like 20 of them since Christmas, which is downright rapid even for me).

I also have new goals for 2014. High on the list is the completion of revisions to my novel, One Hundred Days, which I'll start work on as soon as the Starter Guide is finished. I'm also making significant progress on my short story series Across the Curse-Strewn World, featuring the sorcerer Aniver, his companion Semira, and their quest to rescue a city lost to rogue Time. The next installment, "For Lost Time," is forthcoming from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, where "The Storms in Arisbat" appeared in 2012. I'm currently writing the last chapter of Aniver and Semira's well as the first, a novella about exactly what happened in the Glass-Clear Sea. I'm also writing a short piece about the Queen of Yesterday that might form a sort of prequel to the core trilogy of Arisbat-Lost Time-and the third story, currently known as "The Grace of Turning Back."

Usually I laugh at authors who claim to have trouble writing terrible things happening to their protagonists, but I have to tell you, "Grace" is difficult and I want to write Aniver and Semira letters of apology. I can't wait to finish. Muahaha--sob sob.

But all is not grief and loss (fictional or otherwise). In fact, with the help of Grace or otherwise, some things do return. One of those returning things is "Charismatic," a science fiction piece that first appeared in Crossed Genres Issue #21 [Invasion] and has since lapsed out of print. It has, however, been accepted for reprinting by a new magazine, Ares, which combines science fiction and gameplay in each issue. Ares is currently running a Kickstarter to fund their first year, with perks that might be of special interest to gamers--getting your face on custom designed game cards, for instance!

Draft of Ares Magazine Issue #1 Cover