I left Florida for a few hours today when Carol took me out for an Oriental fun fest. First we dined on Chinese cuisine and then we toured the Morikami Museum and Gardens
in Palm Beach today. Honestly, I almost didn't want to come back.
After admiring three galleries of gorgeous Japanese art and pottery at the main building, we walked through the extensive gardens and admired the large collection of quarter-century old bonsai trees (still considered to be in training.) The museum has a lot of history to offer visitors, from an in-depth look at the original 1903 Yamato colony settlers to the life of George Morikami, a pineapple farmer who eventually deeded his extensive farm property over to the city to be used for the museum.
I think the most fun Carol and I had -- besides walking back to the museum in the rain and getting soaked -- was the "Guess What This Is" room. Traditional Japanese objects are displayed in glass cases, with three "explanations" of what they are. You have to guess which is right, and check the correct answer under little doors in the walls. What we thought was a dented porcelain vase turned out to be a ceramic headrest (Serta definitely needs to open a franchise in Tokoyo.)
Switching to Phillip the backup computer isn't such a hardship; I get to look over some old files I forgot I had on him. I opened up a couple that were mysterious marked "Bsketball" -- I'm not much of a sports fan -- and found these, taken seven years ago:
(That's Mike at 2-1/2 years old beside me, holding on to the hem of my maternity shirt. I know the angle looks a little strange....)
Nineteen hours of labor later, the midwife and I delivered the basketball together. Totally natural childbirth, no drugs, no IVs, no rest for the wicked:
Here's the basketball, exactly one year later:
Will be offline for most of today to reinstall software and stuff. Pray for me.
Tardy Once More:
The story and update for the web site are going to be late (again), you can thank the Laws of Murphy for the delay. Well, the field trip didn't help, but it was a last-minute arrangement, and I'm not sorry I went. Did me good to get out of Beemer Town and hang out with blue collar workers for a change. My homies.
Tonight I'm waffling on "Nature's Decree" (the story formerly titled "Precision") as it wants to novelize itself, and I want it to stay under 20K. The protagonist and the villain both got interesting on me and now want to breed other plot lines and drag in new characters. After the mess I had with that shape shifter story going gonzo in mid-composition, I intended a little more control over the product -- but distractions and uncertainty conspired against me. Also, I love writing about surgery, and with StarDoc off on the hiatus shelf I miss all the fun of plotting procedures. I don't want to let it go yet.
The other thing is I've found out something about myself I didn't know -- somewhere upstairs I've been carrying around an expectation of approval. See, I've always believe in hard work, and the benefits that delivers, nothing else. I thought I had my head straight about what I wanted, and then this really awful thing comes out of left field and I didn't react the way I thought I would. Remember when I talked about wanting approval as a survival instinct, from the days when we sought approval so we could stay in the cave and not starve and not freeze to death? Last night I wanted to crawl back into the cave, so much that it floored me. Jesus, I don't even like
the damn cave. But what I discovered is that I had expected to get approval by default. That if I work hard enough, and I'm successful enough, then the tribe will have to accept me/approve of me. And you know what? It's never going to happen.
How did the clock sneak past midnight so fast?
Went to a construction site today downtown to talk to large men in hard hats, courtesy of a friend's husband who subcontracts electrical work for the job. No women on the crew, but a couple of the guys told me of different jobs where they've worked with women. The general consensus was that women are a distraction (or maybe that was a little warning for me.) Construction workers get a bad rap from the TV stereotypes, by the way, the men were all very courteous and very interested in how I intended to portray their fictional counterparts. They fell for my wheelbarrow trick, thought it was hysterically funny and are stealing it to try out on an obnoxious electrician they know (hopefully, not my friend's husband.)
Work at a construction site is hot, loud, and dirty, and the physical demands are relentless. The men are on their feet for eight to ten hours straight, constantly bending, lifting, and balancing tremendous weight loads. Most have to shout to be heard over the heavy equipment and resort to their own brand of sign language to avoid throat strain. Sun exposure, abrasive work materials and plain old hard work take a high physical toll; almost all the men have skin and spine problems. Everyone had a horrific job-site accident story to tell me, like fishing stories, each one trying to top the other. I topped them all when I told them about the worker who had come in impaled on a two-by-four through the abdomen and lived.
Building to code was a hot topic, as we have many unlicensed and non-union contractors here in South Florida who manage to operate outside OSHA's eagle eyed inspectors. No one "officially" admitted it, but most of the men do side work on their own or in teams to supplement their income during "dry" spells when the economy slows down and less new homes and structures are built. Wages relate to skill and experience, with heavy machine operators and specialty contract workers like electricians and welders commanding top pay. Almost all the men were brought into the business by a friend or relative, and don't socialize much outside of the ranks, which eerily reminded me a little of the free masons.
Watching them work for a couple of hours gave me a new perspective on their jobs. For one thing, it's much more high tech than I expected, with all sorts of electronic gadgets being used to precisely test and measure, and the site foreman accessing different design plans and specs on his laptop. It's also brutal -- the men move deceptively slow, pacing themselves and performing tasks according to some mysterious logic. Still, why half of them didn't drop from heat stroke, I'll never know, but they did keep hydrated by quick visits to a cooler filled with a weak-tasting Gatorade-type drink. The tempers I expected to see flare never did; the crew was experienced and had worked together for years, and while some of their expressions reminded me a bit of galley slaves, they never complained about the heat, the dirt, or the demands. I didn't get the feeling it was due to my presence, because after five minutes of me sitting and observing I ceased to exist for them -- they were that focused.
I don't think I could do the job these men do, but it was fascinating to see them in action. My next field trip will be to downtown Miami, so I can head up into the skeleton of a new building and see how steel workers build their stairways to heaven.
Chains Ordering to the Net:
A lot of questions have come in about this, so let me give you a rundown on how it works:
Chains, or chain booksellers like Barnes & Noble and Borders, have computerized programs that determine what they order for their stores by net sales. I'll use my GH books as the example: Let's say B&N ordered 10 copies of my first book, Paradise Island, for each of their stores. Order numbers for debut books by new authors vary, but usually you get a pretty decent first order. So, all the stores get 10 copies of Paradise Island, and sell what they can.
When those stores reorder Paradise Island, or order the next book in the trilogy, Dream Mountain, they don't order 10 copies. They order only
what the store sold (aka the net), or less than what the store sold -- say, 8 copies. (You can't expect to sell every copy of your novel unless you're a breakout bestseller and demand exceeds the first order, so this process virtually guarantees the amount of books subsequently ordered will be less each time.) When they go to reorder again, or order the third book, they order equal to or less than the net sales of the second order -- say, 6 copies. And so on and so on and so on, until the store no longer orders any books by that author.
In theory: 10 books ordered / 9 are sold -- first order
8 books ordered / 7 are sold -- second order
6 books ordered / 4 are sold -- third order
2 books ordered/ 0 sold -- fourth order
end result -- author is out of business with the chain booksellers.
Now, since chain booksellers like B&N and Borders sell the most books, the publisher has to somehow work around this author-slaying system. One way is to push back release dates, so to allow more books to be sold from previous orders. That's what they did with my science fiction -- I was on a six to eight month release schedule, now my books will only being released once a year. The other way is to change the author's pseudonym and disassociate him or her from the numbers of the previous pseudonym; thus Gena Hale becomes Jessica Hall. Yet even with these measures, shelf space is becoming very precious, and booksellers are moving into new programs, such as Borders' pay-for-marketing-info scheme where publishers have to pay hefty fees to get the right to determine what goes on the shelves, in return for some kind of marketing data Borders says they'll get out of this. How, I still haven't figured out, but it means small presses are going to be squeezed off the shelf.
The problem is, the switching of names and pushing back release dates and paying for shelf space are short-term maneuvers, not long-term solutions. Obviously, publishers can't ask the chains to get rid of their computer programs; the chains obviously want better stock turn over and better sales numbers. Better bulk buying incentives, encouraging more hand selling, and targeted genre marketing would be areas I'd investigate if I were running the show (which I'm not.) In the meantime, authors have to cope with basically losing their reader base every time their pseudonym changes and selling fewer books every year.
People are predicting that these problems will kill the midlist, which is already badly wounded. In some genres, I agree, but in others -- like romance -- I think sheer volume of demand guarantees some kind of midlist. We can't all be instant bestsellers, however much we'd like to see our names on the NYT BSL, so the envelope of opportunity decreases for every writer. Twenty years ago you could take ten or twenty books to build up to bestseller status. Now it's more like you have to -- in three to five books.
Aliases Part V, AKA The Final Decison. Well, Maybe:
Word came in late, the powers that be like the third pitch, so barring acts from Above and the ever-changing cerebral impulses of publishing executives, my new pseudonym is --
Which means I finally get a "J" name of my own, hee hee.
Horribly Funny Thing to Do to Your Feline:
Tonight, grab a good flashlight and turn down the rest of the lights, then shine the flashlight on the floor next to your cat. Move the circle of light around on the floor, and if your feline is like my boys, a chase will ensue. Don't let them catch it if they're smart, they'll figure it out. Mine are a little slow, so they'll try to chase the light up a wall.
Aliases, Part IV:
Kind of sounds like the "Alien" movies, doesn't it? "Jesse" sounds a little too much like a guy for Onyx, so now we're modifying it to "Jessica Hall." Jessica happens to be the name of one of my nieces and also the good friend who keeps bailing my butt out of computer snafus.
Although the editor is pretty well set for serial novels, Analog is going to take a look at "Rebel Ice". The follow-up submission is going out this afternoon, everybody cross your fingers and toes, this one is (unofficially) StarDoc book six.
Aliases, Part III:
I think this is going to be another long drawn-out process, as Onyx thought "Katherine Kelly" was too soft (wail) and wants something a little harder/edgier, and close to "Gena Hale" on the shelves. So we went with "Jesse Hall" this morning as our second pseudonym pitch. If they don't like that, we'll try something else, and keep trying until everyone is happy. This is just another delightful part of the job. :)
The Department of Defense:
I don't like killing things, but I will if I have to. Happily, my homicidal tendencies are restricted to wasps, hornets, poisonous spiders and anything else creepy and/or crawly that will not vacate the premises. Sorry, I know I'm always harping on the whole do-no-harm thing but I have to draw the line somewhere. Usually the cats do their jobs and I just have to dispose of the bodies, but lately it's been bug-o-rama around here. Not the cute bugs, like butterflies and moths and ladybugs, oh no. We get big whopping palmetto bugs
who act like half drunk factory workers from Pittsburgh out for a night on the town.
And tell me something -- why do palmetto bugs love my hair? Why do they lie in wait for me on hot summer nights when I'm carrying five grocery bags in my damp little hands? Why do I hear little chuckles as they swoop down like little kamikaze pilots from hell bent on making me fall down the stairs and break my damn neck? Why am I afraid of them? Not like they can do anything to me, while I can kill them with a flip flop. And what purpose does a palmetto bug serve, anyway? I'd really like to know.
Hey, Sarah, you're not like getting them to immigrate or something, are you . . . ?
Aliases, Part II:
My agent and her assistant thought my list was a little on the stark side, so we brainstormed and came up with a final decision on one name to pitch to Onyx (drum roll, please):
It's a combination of my daughter's name and one of my family names. No guarantees this will be it until Onyx gives us the green light, but I'm happy. :)
I have to pick out a new pseudonym again, my fourth? fifth? as Onyx would like to bring out the new trilogy under a different name for marketing purposes (chains ordering to the net being the main problem.) So this morning I sat down and tried a few new combos. The key to picking out a good pseudonym is to avoid difficult or odd-sounding names, stick to the middle of the alphabet with the surname, and put something together that makes you sound
right (inexplicable to anyone but a novelist.) Here's the first list:
Sara Austin * Erin Carter * Kim Carter * Terry Carter * Tess Carter * Val Carter * Wyn Carter * Jeri Cole * Tanya Cole * Grace Dane * Jesse Dane * Laura Dane * Terry Elliott * Grace Elliott * Erica Ford * Jesse Ford * Kerry Ford * Sara Ford * Erica Gray * Lynn Gray * Erica Hansen * Carol Hansen * Chris Hansen * Chris Jalen * Erica Jalen * Sara Jalen * Tess Jalen * Laura James * Terry James * Chris Kelly * Erin Kelly * Lyn Kelly * Lee Kyle * Terry Kyle * Erica Raven * Chris Raven
Of the bunch, I like Chris Kelly and Jesse Ford, so if I get to have my way, it'll be one of those two. I also still have to cross reference against lists of writers to make sure I'm not treading on anyone's toes.
Hello, there's a man on my balcony...
My mom used to tell me never to sleep in the nude, because you never know when there might be a fire in the middle of the night and you'd have to rush out of the house and then there you'd be, naked in front of the whole fire department. Hang on, let me enjoy that little day dream for a minute . . .me in all my glory, fireman running away screaming in horror . . .okay, let's move on. Unfortunately, mom's brainwashing worked, and I've always worn something (usually scrubs) to bed. What can I say, I'm dull.
This morning when I trudged out to put the kettle on, I was wearing a Forward Motion tshirt and the oldest, nastiest pair of leggings I own. They're so old the elastic has popped out all over rather like hairy white mold and there's a big old bloodstain on the knee from one of my falls that I've never been able to get out. Still, they keep my legs warm at night, and there's no one to see what I wear, right? As I went to cuddle with the cats, I saw a strange young man standing on my balcony, looking up at the underside of the roof.
It was one of those puzzling moments when you think completely without logic, i.e. "Now, I'm sure
I didn't lock a strange man out on the balcony last night" instead of running and screaming for the police. In my defense, I saw that the front door was still locked and the alarm hadn't gone off, so I was pretty sure he wasn't a burglar. Then it registered when I saw how he'd draped everything with drop cloth -- he was one of the painters working on the building, and must have gotten up on the balcony with the cherry picker they'd been using to reach the upper floors.
In the meantime, my intruder finally noticed me through the sliding doors and gave me a smile. I smiled back and went off to make my tea, satisfied that I wouldn't have to resort to the baseball bat or 911, and mentally chalked one up to Mom for being right.
Some very good news today -- all nine of the miners trapped in Pennsylvania were found alive and rescued,
and Lance Armstrong has won
the Tour de France. You can do a lot to the human spirit, but you just can't stop it.
This story is for my artistic friends, who genuinely suffer for their art (something I should have clarified in the Setting the Mindstage post -- there are some who really suffer, and others who create it artificially.)
I love to paint. Paint with anything -- watercolors, acrylics, oils, chinese ink -- just give me some brushes and canvas and leave me alone. In my twenties, I painted all the time, and eventually convinced myself that I was good enough to compete. I read about the Broward Art Guild's open competition in the newspaper and decided to enter it. The entrance fee was a little high ($50 for two paintings) but I thought, what the heck, maybe I'd win second or third place and that would begin my lucrative side career as an abstract artist. I even paid $75 to have my paintings professionally matted and framed.
This is the part where Jesus would weep.
I was the first person to enter the competition, and my paintings (a cathedral of ice painted on two separate layers of plexiglass, and a portrait of an exotic woman with lace for hair) were marked #1 and #2 respectively. I went home and called everyone I knew, telling them about the competition, which started a week later. On the opening day of the show, all my friends, family, and professional associates were invited to come and see my art at the exhibit. I sent out written invitations to people I couldn't reach by phone. I was so excited, just the thought of seeing my work hanging in a real exhibition made me float through the next week.
Opening day arrived. I dressed carefully, because I wanted to A) look great and B) my boss, a very busy man I deeply admired, had promised to attend. I can remember warning my mother not to fuss if I placed (so sure that I would.) Everyone met us at the gallery -- most of my family, all of my friends, all of the people I worked with, my boss and his family. We're talking forty of the people I cared most about in the world, all ready to see my art on exhibit.
Only it wasn't on exhibit.
We went through the entire gallery and looked through about five hundred different paintings, sketches, scupltures, etc., but my two paintings were missing. Obviously, someone had made an oversight. I asked around and someone directed me to the then-President of the Broward Art Guild, who was very puzzled until I described my paintings. Then her expression cleared and she said, "Ah, those two are in my office. I'll get them for you." In front of God and everyone I cared about, I demanded to know why they weren't hanging in the exhibit -- I'd signed up, paid the entry fee, framed them -- in fact I'd done everything Broward Art Guild had specified in their guidelines.
"Because they don't meet our professional standards, dear," the lady told me, quite loudly, enough for everyone in the room to hear. "They're not good enough to be included in our exhibit. Didn't anyone tell you your entry could be rejected?"
No. No one had told me jack
about that. They'd just taken my money.
I literally froze in place. My face must have turned a brilliant color of scarlet, from the amount of heat I felt. I didn't cry, though -- thankfully, that would happen much later, when I was alone in my bedroom, staring at my rejected paintings. I asked for my money back, which the lady refused. Entrance fees were non-refundable. Then she turned her back on me and started talking to someone else.
I have a good family, and good friends. They got my paintings and got me out of there. My boss took us all to a restaurant and sprang for lunch, God bless him. No one laughed at me. Everyone gave me much sympathy, and spent the next hour verbally tearing apart the exhibit, the snotty woman President, the Guild, etc. Those people wouldn't know great art if it ran them over on the highway, etc. etc.
That was the first and last time I ever tried to exhibit my art. I didn't paint again until many years later, when the pain had faded enough for me to pick up a brush. I rarely if ever show my paintings to anyone now, even my own kids.
I've been rejected over sixteen hundred times as a writer, but not even the worst of the hell-no letters I've received from a publisher affected me as much as that exhibit bounce. I'm not sure why being rejected as a writer is easier, either. Since that time, I've concluded that I was never meant to be an artist, I'll never be any good at it and the guild was right, my painting didn't meet their standards. Would I feel the same if they had hung my paintings in that exhibit? I'll never know.