State of the Blog 2^8

Here we are at post #256!

Things that happened between SotB 27 and now, not necessarily in this order:

  • This blog started to gain quite a bit of traction — or at least, it feels like it has.
  • I stopped checking my blog stats.  Like, pretty much completely.
  • I spoke a lot about the the SFF controversies that went on during 2013 (and the beginning of ’14).
  • I released my first book!

Some of these things are related to each other, I am sure!  To analyze a bit more closely:

Against the advice of some who tell writers not to be opinionated, it’s always been important to me to speak out on this blog, particularly about issues that matter to me.  I’ve also always been determined to blog as myself, and to be stubbornly and opinionated-ly genuine — not to be a persona, a brand, or a salesperson.  I think it’s because of this that I’ve been able to build up such wonderful relationships and friends through blogging and Twitter.  (A lovely side effect of all of this was that I realized I truly love my online interactions for themselves, and that if I’d never published my book, I wouldn’t have stopped.  I value the online relationships I’ve built too highly!)

And you know what?  I’ve already been floored by the number of people — people I didn’t know — who have expressed interest in my book because they like my blog.  And also by the number of people who do know me — who got to know me through the Internet, through my blog or through Twitter or through Absolute Write (where I am also very opinionated) — who’ve been excited about my book, or reviewed it, or helped me promote it.

It was never something I expected, and still not something I expect — I mean, I just don’t think that way, the “what can this person do for me” way (something I’m very grateful for!).[1]  It would feel like I was bending my brain in half if I tried to think about people like that, particularly people I know and respect.  I’d so much rather just talk to people I like about things I like to talk about!  But from the response my book has gotten so far, it appears that by being, I don’t know — a real person and whatnot — that I have accidentally Done Social Media Right from a business perspective.

Which makes me want to say IN YOUR FACE to those people who preach about exactly how one must construct a Social Media Promotional Persona. ;)

And the reason I’m talking about it here is to encourage authors who are just starting to blog: Be yourself.  Talk to other people, and listen.  Interact.  Have opinions.  Engage with other people about their opinions.  Be thoughtful, and sincere, and passionate, and talk to people you like about things you like, and make friends you will have such a gangbusters time laughing with on Twitter that you won’t know or care whether they bought your book or not.  In other words, you don’t have to be a one-person Promotional Machine of Social Media Blitzing — and perhaps, speaking with my own humble experience as a Twitter user, it’s entirely possible that is exactly what you don’t want to be. ;)

Incidentally, as social media began to feel much more like a conversation and much less like essays being thrown into the wind, I stopped checking my stats.  I just . . . didn’t really care anymore?  The quality of my interaction became so much more important than the quantity that I just sort of stopped thinking about it.  Which has been kind of wonderful for my sanity, and also wonderful training for my book release, because I have so far been surprisingly successful in parlaying that attitude into not checking my Amazon numbers.  (How many books have I sold so far?  I honestly don’t know.  I’ve been working on Book 3!)

Since I suspect it will interest people, however, here are the top nine most-visited posts of all time (everything that ranks higher than my “About” page):

The SFWA ones are not a surprise, and the gun guide posts always get a fair amount of love.  I honestly didn’t know the one about actor backup plans was that popular — it must have gotten linked somewhere, but I have no idea when or where!  The story about my afternoon of being hopped up on a Sudafed/Synthroid combination has always seen a slow and steady stream of search engine hits.  I wrote it for exactly that purpose, as something people could find when they searched for it, but I’m still surprised to see it ranked that high; perhaps it got linked somewhere as well.

Now, elephant in the room: I kind of have to talk about my posts regarding SFWA, don’t I?  Several of them went viral at the time, and as you can see, half the top-posts-of-all-time are related to those issues.

Thing is, if we’re talking blog stats — as far as I can tell, those posts matter, and they also don’t.

The two posts that went viral didn’t give me an uptick in overall hits or subscribers.  My blog certainly got visibility from people linking to it, and eventually the length of the ongoing discussion gave me a certain amount of name recognition, but I don’t think those links, in isolation, matter terribly much if we’re aiming the discussion at the staying power of my blog.  Instead, I think what matters to my overall traction is that I write consistently about issues of representation, and I have since I started blogging.  I didn’t write about SFWA to sensationalize; I wrote about it because it fell in the intersection of two things I care about deeply, the SFF community and problematic institutional prejudice.  And I write about both of those things a lot, independent of each other, because I do care.

In other words: I do not think that one can from two viral posts a blog make. ;)  Having a post go viral was surreal — that was back when I was still checking my stats daily — and I was glad that particular post had impact, but as far as impact on the overall blog goes, I’m extremely skeptical a viral post is something that it matters for bloggers to strive for.

Now, in checking my stats page, the really interesting thing is that my subscribers number — which had stayed pretty static for a long time — seems to be climbing since my book release a week ago.  But you’ll have to wait for State of the Blog 29 to see how being a Real Live AuthorTM is affecting my status as a Strange Mad Blogger!

  1. Yes, I did start this blog because I wrote a book, but I was vaguely thinking in terms of general . . . visibility . . . or something, not starting out of the gate surrounded by wonderful people who really do want to see me succeed.  Having the latter instead of the former is a marvelous and humbling feeling!

Ten “Favorite” Books

I was talking to a friend today about making a list of our top 10 favorite books.

The decision is so impossible it almost feels meaningless.  I’ve read thousands of books in my lifetime.  Once I sat down to list how as many titles as I could remember reading, and I hit 500 without breaking a sweat — just of titles I could remember off the top of my head.  I have over 600 paper books just in my personal library.

And my favorite books have not always been the best books I’ve read, either.  And the ones I like to reread the most are not even always my favorites!  Sometimes I have sentimental attachments.  Sometimes a book pushes every button I have while still having problems I could write a thesis on.

So I thought, here’s an interesting exercise: try to think of the first 10 (fiction) books that might land in the “favorite” category.  The books that reached in and twisted my soul around.  The books that spoke to me so personally that I felt they were written just for me.  The books that I reread, over and over and over again, for no particular reason.  Write down the first ten of those that come to mind.

10 Books That Touched Me

  1. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman The one paperback in my library I took with me across the country.  I don’t know if it’s my favorite book, or even the one I’ve reread the most.  I just know that it’s like warm blankets and white rice and hot cocoa.  Comfort food.
  2. Deep Secret and The Merlin Conspiracy, by Diana Wynne Jones I’m cheating a little by putting these in the same line item, but they’re in the same universe and remain connected in my mind.  Everything I love about fantasy is wrapped up in these perfectly-written books, and I’m a little embarrassed to say how much I related to Nick.
  3. Bloodchild, by Octavia Butler The first Octavia Butler I read and still my favorite.  Unbelievable how much some of the stories made me think.
  4. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury I don’t actually remember much of this book, to be honest.  What I do remember is almost crying at the beauty of the prose.  Multiple times.
  5. 1984, by George Orwell It’s the ideas behind Orwell’s dystopia that push this one onto the list.  1984 is the sort of book that simultaneously terrified me and engaged me.
  6. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, by William Shakespeare Okay, I’m definitely cheating by putting this all as one line item, especially as there are still some histories I haven’t read, but otherwise once I thought of Shakespeare he would’ve taken up the whole rest of the list.  I’ve read, studied, and performed so many of his plays, and they’ve spoken to me in so many ways.
  7. V, by A.C. Crispin I wrote about my relationship with V here.
  8. The Story Girl, by L.M. Montgomery I owned most of L.M. Montgomery’s books as a kid, and this was my favorite.  I can’t count the number of times I reread it.
  9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams Spaceships that hang in the sky the same way bricks don’t!  I’ve only encountered one other writer with Adams’ sheer mind-blowing creativity, and she isn’t published yet. ;)
  10. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle I used to reread this book every two years like clockwork.  I still remember explaining proudly to my second-grade teacher what the fourth and fifth dimensions were.  And of course there were all the sequels . . . (Many Waters has made me quite snooty about my Noah’s Ark knowledge in the context of the recent movie release.)

Okay!

It’s an interesting mix.  Half male authors, half female authors.  Staggeringly skewed toward books I first read as a child (8), with only one book I discovered in college (Deep Secret) and two books I discovered post-college (The Merlin Conspiracy and Bloodchild).  Three fantasy, six science fiction, one contemporary (for its time), and Shakespeare.  (Oddly, most of the books I thought of but didn’t feel “favorite” enough were contemporary, like The Joy Luck Club and The Twinkie Squad — there’s something about speculative fiction that hits my kinks much harder, that makes me think much more.)  One media tie-in book (for a series I never saw).  Seven adult books, and four books that would probably be considered young adult.  Only one author of color on the list, which I think is indicative of the fact that I made little effort to diversify my reading when I was young, and most of these books are books I read young.  (Oddly, I can name a plethora of authors of color I did read as a kid — in particular, I know I read quite a few books by Asian-American and African-American authors — but most of those books were contemporary, which we’ve established does not speak to me quite as loudly for some reason.)

Ender’s Game would have been on here if I’d been able to reread it since I found out about Card’s homophobia.  It’s not that I hold it against the book; I just . . . don’t pick it up anymore.

How correct does this list feel, if I weren’t naming the first ten books that felt like favorites off the top of my head?  Well, about half of them feel like books I’d kick and scream at if something else pushed them off the list, so I’m going to go with about half right. ;)

What about you?  What are the first ten “favorite” books you can think of?

Conversation of the Day: In Which I Earn the Right to Tell People to Get Off My Lawn

My student: And then my mom had to drive my car home from the mechanic, and she was all nervous about it.

Me: Because it’s a strange car?

My student: I don’t know why!  I told her, “Mom, it’s easy!  You just make sure your foot is on the brake and push the button.  And then make sure it’s turned off when you get out, because people have died of carbon monoxide poisoning otherwise.”

Me: …button?

In Which I Appear On Other People’s Blogs

I did a “Five Things I Learned” post over at Chuck Wendig’s blog today. Come by and give it a read!

And then this made me want to hide under the blankets . . . Thank you, kk.

Zero Sum Game has been uploaded to retailers and is just waiting for the gears to turn and for the carrier pigeons to lift the bits through the tubes. I’m only saved from refreshing repeatedly as I watch the sand trickle by the fact that I’m working tonight, thank goodness.

It comes!

Fun with Numbers: 1066

I went to get a mailbox last week for my self-publishing venture, and the employee let me choose my own number.  Math nerd that I am, I stood there for a solid ten minutes looking at the bank of mailboxes and figuring out which number I would prefer.

1729 would’ve been my first four-digit choice, but they didn’t go up that high.  The obvious choices like 1024 were taken.  I started scrolling through this site, looking at what interesting mathematical qualities each of the open mailbox numbers had.

And then I spotted 1066.  Damn.  That was the one.

The Historical

When I told my friends I chose 1066, they immediately said, “Normandy?  Why?”  After rolling my eyes at having such smarty-pants friends, I explained that it wasn’t the Battle of Hastings per se that I was into, it was the Bayeux Tapestry.  Ever since I studied it in art history, something has tickled me about the Bayeux Tapestry — as a piece that has been so remarkably preserved, as a piece of craftsmanship so grand in scope, as a piece of such extensive narrative storytelling — and I just get a kick out of it.  I’ve never seen mention of anything else like it in the art world.

And I always associate 1066 with the Bayeux Tapestry.  So there was that.

The Numerical

From the “What’s Special About This Number?” list, the following happens to be true about 1066:

2\phi(n) = \phi(n+1)

Since I’ve done some work with the totient function before, and since it gets a shout out in Zero Sum Game when my main character is hallucinating (yes, she hallucinates math, what else would she hallucinate!), that seemed rather perfect.

The Historical / Mathematical / Personally Significant

There’s this game called 24.

I first learned it with cards.  You set out four cards, and you try to use each of them exactly once and end with a result of 24 (with the face cards being worth 11, 12, and 13).  So, an ace, a three, a five, and a jack could form (11 – 5)(1 + 3) = 24.  If you’re the first person to come up with a working combination, you win that round.

Some people claim the rules say you can only use addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.[1]  I think it’s FAR more fun — and more challenging! — to allow any operation.

Anyway, I’m addicted to this game.  I play it solitaire-style with anything that has four numbers.  Like license plates when I’m stuck in traffic (CA plates have four numbers and three letters).  Or dates.  And 1066 is one of my favorite 24 combinations ever:

(6 - (6^0 + 1))! = 24

Boom.

I liked that solution so much that I put it in a story I wrote when I was in high school.  In the story, the character couldn’t remember what happened in the year 1066 — only that it was “something important,” and that the combination of the digits to make 24 was a cool one.

So, there you have it.  1066 became my new mailbox number.

  1. I know some people claim this, because they’ve tried to disqualify my creative solutions!

Zero Sum Game Book Updates

Zero Sum Game is on Goodreads!  Thank you to the librarian who put it up; in my cluelessness I had not realized I could add it pre-publication.  Oops.

You might notice I’ve reorganized the website a bit, and now have a books section where you can see the blurb. After release, the vendor links will be posted there permanently as well.

I’m about a week out from publication (official release date is March 31, y’all, though I will probably upload a few days early to guard against delays).  Wheeeeee!

Ebook Formatting Woes: Remember Trying to Be Compatible With Netscape? Yeah, That.

My book is done and has been going out for review this week (if anyone wants an eARC, let me know!), which means I am finally through the formatting process.  And, let’s see — do I still have any hair left?

Not because it was all that bad, mind you.  On the whole, the formatting process was reasonably painless — I used Guido’s excellent guide, and I have good knowledge of HTML and CSS already, which made it much easier.  The reason it was so frustrating was that it ended up literally impossible to get perfect thanks to the differences between devices, and for a diehard perfectionist, this kills me.

I very quickly realized the best strategy was to format as simply as possible and make even the least bit of fanciness something that would degrade gracefully if it didn’t work.  But dear Lord, does anyone remember trying to design websites that would still be compatible with IE4 and Netscape Navigator?  I started designing in the late 90′s, when there was still a concern people would be using those godawful dinosaurs, and I remember wanting to put my head through a wall whenever there was that one thing that would break spectacularly in Netscape.  And even the latest IEs were only half standards compliant, so ninety percent of the time I would design a clean page that would open beautifully in Opera and Mozilla (yes, Mozilla — this was before Firefox, I’m old!) and then it would look like a Picasso in IE and I would have to write “if IE” workarounds for half the code because Microsoft couldn’t freakin’ design a browser that bothered to comply with the standards.

Coding for ebooks is almost worse, because as far as I’ve been able to find, there aren’t really workarounds or “if Sony . . .” clauses I can add if I want things to look a certain way.  It’s a good thing I’m down with simplicity anyway, and “degrading gracefully” became my mantra of the month.  But there were two things that had no good solution, and I am still incredibly bugged by them.

No Love for Paul Erdős

My book has a passing reference to the Hungarian mathematician Erdős, who has a double acute accent over the o in his name.  This has an HTML entity — ő — but it’s not a named one, and it broke for at least one of my formatting checkers.

What to do!  I appealed to Absolute Write, Twitter, and my RL friends.  Do I Anglicize his name?  (Ick!)  Do I use a common misspelling, such as the umlaut over the o?  (Also ick!)  Do I leave the character and accept that it will break for some people?  But — but — but my readers!

I ended up leaving the name spelled correctly — in my informal poll, about half the people thought I should Anglicize it (possibly with a note in an afterward) and about half the people said I should leave it, but nobody had terribly strong feelings and everyone agreed it was a hard choice.  What decided me was that if I had an ereader that didn’t work on the character, I’d still prefer the author spell it correctly, even if it broke for me.

But the fact remains that I have some readers that will see “Erd?s” in that paragraph.  And that freakin’ sucks.

Orphaned Em Dash: My Worst Nightmare

Amazon Kindle has a problem with orphaning em dashes that are at the end of a line.  In other words, if the line falls on the page in an unlucky way, “What do you mean, he’s —” would become

“What do you mean, he’s

—”

GAH.

(I don’t know enough to consider myself a typography geek, but maybe I would qualify as an armchair typography geek, and this makes me go into spasms.)

And there’s no solution!  The worst part is, HTML has a solution to this, a character you can put between the em dash and the word in all of those instances to make sure no break happens, but Kindle doesn’t recognize it.  And I sure as heck wasn’t going to put it in and risk having it pop up as a question mark on some devices.

Aaaaaand of course, in my book, I have one paragraph which, in the default font size on Kindle, orphans an em dash at the end of it.  Motherfucker.

(My friend laughed at me.  “Is this your worst nightmare?” she said.  “YES!” I cried.)

Now, I could alter the text of that paragraph, but that doesn’t solve the underlying problem — in other font sizes on other devices, this orphaning will still happen.  And I’m really stubborn about changing the text of a book to make the formatting work better.  That doesn’t seem right to me.

So in the Kindle default font size, there’s an orphaned em dash.  And I sit here, grinding my teeth, and can do nothing.

Kills me, folks.  Kills me.

How Much Bigger is a 4.7 Earthquake Than a 4.4? Twice As Big.

OMG it’s a math post!

Yesterday we had an earthquake here in SoCal.  It was the most dramatic one I’ve been here for, by a long shot, and my friends have all said the same — probably because we all live near the epicenter and it was quite a shallow quake.

It turned out the earthquake was only a 4.4 — a bit of a disappointing number after what we had felt!  Anyway, it was first reported in as a 4.7, and then revised to a 4.4, and someone retweeted this tweet:

Well, yeah.  But that doesn’t really tell us anything, does it?  It’s a difference of .3 on the Richter scale, but the Richter scale is logarithmic, and we silly humans aren’t used to thinking in logarithms unless we’re astronomers.  So how much bigger IS a 4.7 than a 4.4?

(cut for math)

Continue reading

Who Chooses SF Classics? Who Chooses Our Required Reading?

The Book Smugglers started a very interesting discussion on Twitter today, about what makes something a “classic” of science fiction.

I have many Thoughts on this stuff.  In particular, the “You haven’t read HEINLEIN?  You’re not a true fan!” attitude bothers me for many, many reasons, starting with my discomfort with defining “true fans,” and running through my own particular opinion that Heinlein, however influential, is certainly not the be-all end-all of the genre, my discomfort with making anything “required reading” in a genre this large and diverse, and my own personal feelings on Heinlein’s writing, which are somewhere between “eh” and “not all he’s cracked up to be.”

I feel similarly about any of the other “classic” writers who were repeatedly recommended to me in one breath in my youth, except with variations on my personal taste for them (I’m an Asimov and Bradbury nut but could never get into Dune or Snow Crash, but all that’s neither here nor there).  The point I’m getting around to is, if you’ve been a SF fan as long as I have, you feel like you’ve at least tried all the “classics” (or you’re aware of your “blasphemy” in not having read them yet).  That even before the days of the Internet, you’d be assured of eventually having a conversation along the lines of, “You’ve never read [Classic Author]???  Where have you BEEN?!  Read [Classic Title] right now!” so by the time you were a seasoned SF fan you at least felt like you knew all the Important Names.

All this is a backdrop to what I really want to talk about here, which is possibly a very small piece of all this, but also possibly representative, and the only part of my relevant thoughts that feels remotely coherent.  Namely: my reaction the first time I read Octavia Butler.

It was relatively recently.  After college.  Long after I had foolishly presumed I knew of every Big Name in the genre.  I started to diversify my reading because Reasons, and the first name on every single list of SF authors of color was Octavia Butler.  The first recommendation on everyone’s lips, if we conditioned first for diversity.

So I picked up Bloodchild.

And I remember being shocked.  Mind-numbingly shocked.  Because I didn’t get this — I didn’t get how I could have been a fan for so long, had had the luminaries of the genre recommended to me time and time again in a myriad of different contexts, and no one had ever told me to read Butler.  The only places I’d seen her were on lists regarding diversity and authors of color, the lists I’d only just sought out.

I’d never seen her name unfurled in the litanies of classics in the same breath as Asimov or Bradbury.  And I couldn’t understand why.  Octavia Butler is not a great SF writer of color, or a great female SF writer. She’s a great SF writer.

And in her case there is no question that this could be only my own subjective her-work-touched-me opinion.  If you look her up, she’s widely acknowledged in every biographical piece as a master of SFF.  Award winning.  Massively respected.  And if we’re measuring influence and groundbreaking in the field as metrics of what makes a classic, it’s hard for me to fathom the idea that Octavia Butler wouldn’t fit that definition.

If I name her as a classic SF author, I never expect anyone to argue with me.

And yet, nearly every time I see someone else recommend her, it’s segregated. Qualified.  A recommendation given if you want writers of color.

I don’t understand how we can have a genre where “You haven’t read HEINLEIN (/Asimov/Clarke/Bradbury/Dick/etc.)??” are common and accepted refrains, and “You haven’t read BUTLER??” is almost unheard.  Why aren’t we saying it?  Why isn’t Octavia Butler considered “required reading” of the classics in order to consider oneself a True SF Fan?  Why don’t people feel left out and incomplete if they haven’t read her?[1]

I don’t really know what defines a classic, or who should get to say what one is.  But I do know I find myself feeling deeply uncomfortable with any popular mentality that shames people for not reading influential white men while giving a pass to those who skip the influential black women.

Edited to add: Ana of The Book Smugglers turned her thoughts into a thought-provoking essay here.  I highly recommend both that and the Storify for a broader articulation of the issues surrounding this point.

  1. Sarcasm intended here; as noted I think there’s something problematic about these attitudes in general, though my thoughts on them are not quite articulate enough to form a post from.