Tuesday, December 4, 2012

'Tis the season...

I'm not talking about Christmas, not yet, anyway. The current season is Advent, which begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and is a time of spiritual preparation for the celebration of Christ's birth. While I wish I were spending it at the convent, that's not in my budget this year. I have already bought all the Christmas presents, so it's not the season to run frantically through the mall while trying to ignore music that more properly belongs to the period between December 25th and January 5th (or January 6th to the beginning of Lent).

What I'm planning to do this Advent is to find my favorite anti-clutter books and dig out my room/computer room/office. I have a copy of It's All Too Much that has been sitting next to the head of my bed for several months. I'm still on page 17, stuck at the "deciding the purpose each room serves" step. At lot of books are designed for people with a spouse and children (and possibly pets), a house, a yard, a car, and so forth. Certainly this is a valid approach, and many people need it. But as one gets older, one's space tends to shrink. I used to live in a Victorian house on a double lot in Berkeley with my boss, three other people, and two large dogs. There were also two office employees who didn't live in, plus the daily home health care workers. The house had a front hall, with an entire wall devoted to Marion's books (just the ones she wrote, not any of the many, many others that she owned), a walled-in sun porch, music room, living room, library, kitchen, pantry, bath, and Marion's office (originally a bedroom). That was the upstairs. The downstairs had three bedrooms, a common room, the laundry room, and another bathroom. Then there was the carriage house: offices upstairs; my quarters downstairs. The car lived in the driveway.

The move from there to a studio apartment in San Francisco required a lot of changes. I am profoundly thankful for eBooks; I have about 1,800 of them. Not only are they not taking up shelf space, but I can adjust the type size to something I find comfortable. With mp3 songs and iTunes, my CD collection now takes up about two linear feet and my DVDs use another three. So I should be organized, right? Well, no.

Despite my use of online bill paying, there are five bills on the desk in front of me, three of which are going to need paper checks. And while going through that pile I found three royalty statements from LSI: July US; July UK; and November US--as well as a September statement for MZB's audiobooks. We haven't been paid for the last two yet; the July payments were electronically deposited on October 30 (US) and November 1 (UK). They're still on my desk because the "title" for every single book they've published for us is "Marion Zimmer Bradley's". I know that they're Sword and Sorceress 22-26, but the only thing that differentiates them on the statement is the ISBNs, so I print out the page that has the detail information and log them in when I get around to it. Given that they don't pay us until three months after they e-mail the statements, it doesn't really seem urgent. Turning to my left I have a bulletin board with a calendar, the cable for my iPod, and a rosary. The paper shredder is under that. Then there's The Table. Some people have junk drawers; I have a junk table. There's a book about using Google for genealogy (under a pencil holder, a paperweight, a paperclip holder and a digital clock/thermometer). Then there's a small vase with a stress ball on top of it, another pencil container, a music box and an L-shaped piece of plastic I can't identify but am keeping because it appears designed to cover something sharp. In front of that is a copy of the Darkover Concordance, which we are working on reprinting, a file of eBook contracts, notes for the next Darkover anthology, and the legal notice from the bank that arrived today. I'll read it tomorrow. Maybe. Then I have a notepad, two spiral notebooks with pens stuck in their rings, and a Sony eReader I haven't used in uh, two years? I think that the pile behind that has mortgage documents on the bottom, Marion's writing workshop notes in the middle, and some documents about emergency planning near the top.

The pile beyond that is genealogical papers. It's not bad enough for me to be a writer and editor, I have to have genealogy as a hobby. There are papers waiting for me to go to the local genealogy library, papers waiting for my next trip to Salt Lake City, and papers waiting for me to find time to go to New York City and look up an old marriage record. (Now is clearly not a good time; I don't know if that part of the city has power back yet.)

What really bothers me is that I haven't seen my library card in over six weeks, but I'm pretty certain that it's somewhere in this room. So it's time to sort, clean up, and put meaningful labels on the storage containers. "To Be Paid" currently has my notes from this year's RWA meetings. I was down to two sheets of white printer paper before I finally got another ream yesterday (and it's still in my tote bag on the floor).

I don't need a book that asks me what I should be using this room for, what I need are books that make me laugh and feel better about the mess I'm facing. Fortunately I have three great ones, all by Don Aslett: Clutter's Last Stand; Not For Packrats Only; and The Office Clutter Cure. Reading statements like "My mother saved everything. My father died ten years ago, and I'm sure he's in the bottom of the freezer" remind me that my life and my stuff are not completely out of control. And I love Mr. Aslett's description of the evolution of the office: "Office supply people came in platoons, one right after another. Gadgets not even God had thought of were created. The electric cords for all this snaked under and around desks and everywhere." Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

I don't feel so alone now, and I know I can do this. Of course, prayer never hurts. Fortunately it's the season for it.

Happy Advent, everyone.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Too Soon Old

It is said that humans grow “too soon old and too late smart.” Compared to our “smart” devices, however, we’re immortal. For example, I have an iPod touch that I bought two years ago. It still functions perfectly well, so I have no desire to replace it (and given my current economic condition, replacing it isn’t in my budget until at least 2014).

Unfortunately, both Apple and the people who write applications for iPod, iPhone, and iPad seem to think I should be replacing it. Actually, they seem to think I should have replaced it six months ago. Four of the applications I use (three of them on a daily basis) have upgrades that will not install on my current operating system, and the operating system they think I should have will not run on my device. Another app, which I used at least once a month, wiped itself out, which was really annoying. At least the Kindle app simply doesn’t install the update, and the old version continues to work.

I wasn’t paying too much attention to this (it’s November, so at lot of my attention is on National Novel Writing Month) until the notifications came from Fictionwise. I knew, of course, that Barnes & Noble bought Fictionwise back in 2009. The Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust published a lot of books and stories (over 700 of them) on Fictionwise, and some of them became available on the Barnes & Noble site then. A couple of years later Barnes & Noble came up with PubIt, which is close enough to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing that the same source files can be used for both. This is not, of course, the file format used for Fictionwise. Because I’m the Trust’s IT department, I’ve spent a lot of time converting Fictionwise stories into Kindle/Nook format. It’s a long, slow process.

Then, on November 15, Fictionwise sent an e-mail to the Trust, informing us that they were ending sales on December 4, 2012. Because even the Fictionwise books that were transferred to Barnes & Noble did not take their metadata with them, I just spent several days copying search keywords, book/story descriptions, and reviews from the individual item pages on the publisher side of the Fictionwise site to a text file. Now at least I have all the data in one place as I continue to convert the books.

I also have a second relationship with Fictionwise. I bought over a thousand eBooks from them during the past decade. I now have until December 21 to download the ones I want to keep and then convert them to Kindle format. This involves the unlock codes for a lot of .pdb eBooks (that being the format that worked on my Palm Treo last decade). It’s a good thing I kept my old credit cards, because I’ll need my Waldenbooks Preferred Reader Visa card to unlock some of the older ones. (Remember Waldenbooks?)

This is not, of course, what Barnes & Noble expects me to do. They want me to opt-in to have my Bookshelf transferred to a Barnes & Noble Nook Library. As they put it: “With your NOOK Library, you will have access to an expansive and ever-growing eBookstore. You can read NOOK Books on NOOK's free mobile app for your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet, NOOK® for Windows 8 PC or Tablet, as well as reading your eBooks with your PC/Mac web browser, or on the award-winning NOOK® devices.”

Well, (1) Nook’s free mobile app for iPod doesn’t run on my operating system, (2) I don’t have an Android anything, (3) I don’t have an award-winning (what award?) Nook device, and (4) I don’t want to sit at my computer to read eBooks. I spend way too much time sitting at my computer as it is. For me, the whole point of having eBooks is that I can keep them on a device that fits in my pocket. That way I always have something to read with me.

So, as soon as I finish National Novel Writing Month, I’ll be downloading my Bookshelf from Fictionwise. It’s a good thing I did my Christmas shopping early.







Monday, November 19, 2012

Pas Devant



There was a French phrase that my parents used fairly often when I was a child: pas devant. Depending on context, this is shorthand for either pas devant les enfants (not in front of the children—or as Timon told Pumba in Disney’s The Lion King—“not in front of the kids”) or pas devant les domestiques (not in front of the servants). My parents generally used the first meaning. Now that I think of it, I’m not sure that either of them actually spoke French beyond a few useful phrases, and they stopped using it to exclude me the day I looked up from where I was playing on the floor and said “Twenty-five what?” I believe I was eight at the time; my school started foreign languages in third grade, and French was my favorite class.
I learned the second meaning as well, mostly from the books I read. Emerson used it in TheMummy Case, by Elizabeth Peters, which is a bit of a joke, because Emerson didn’t worry about what he said in front of his servants. His wife’s reaction was “Naturally I paid no attention to this remark, which was only meant to annoy me.” Unlike many of his contemporaries (the book is set in 1894-1895) Emerson talked to his servants, even in the middle of dinner. He didn’t regard them as the walking equivalent of furniture.
This attitude still exists in some places today. I have a friend who plays the harp and is a truly gifted musician, but I have heard her describe her job at some of her gigs as “musical wallpaper.” Of course, when she is hired to provide background music for a party, she expects this. A lot of people are ignored at a large party, particularly one that includes dinner.
There were two things the girls at my boarding school were all required to take turns at: waiting tables at dinner, and running the switchboard. This meant that we all graduated with at least two usable job skills (I spent the summer I turned eighteen working as a long distance operator for the local phone company) and also taught us what it felt like to stand silently near a table until it was time for the next course or somebody wanted a refill on her drink. I hope that it also taught us never to be rude to a telephone operator, receptionist, or waitress. I personally feel it’s unfair to be rude to people who are not in a position to be rude back. Just because you can snap at a waiter who mixes up your order doesn’t mean that you should. I was a camp counselor one summer, and I had the most polite table of campers in the entire dining room. The staff loved us.
There are still people today who ignore the “servants,” even to the point of forgetting that they are in the room. They have forgotten what pas devant means and why it’s a useful phrase. There are some things you don’t want to say in front of the servants—especially the servants with camera phones. “There are 47 percent of the people who...” is probably the best recent example.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Junked Election


It’s not just the buttons that will soon become either cherished memorabilia or landfill, or the bumper stickers that will be obsolete on Wednesday but will stay firmly attached to their cars while the sun fades them to illegibility, or the signs on utility posts that will stay there until the rain finally washes them down. The greatest quantity of election-related garbage is the junk mail.

I live in San Francisco, so I have two pieces of election mail that I actually read and use. One is the Sample Ballot (147 pages), which shows what will be on the ballot, tells me where my polling place is, and has the information on local candidates and ballot propositions. The second is the California General Election booklet (143 pages), put out by the Secretary of State, which has the information on the state propositions. In addition to candidate statements, these booklets contain a summary of each proposition, an analysis by the legislative analyst (background, proposal, fiscal effects), an argument in favor, an argument against, and rebuttals to both arguments. The booklets also contain the text of the applicable laws, with strikeout and italic type showing the proposed changes. I really think that this is plenty of information to enable me to make an informed decision.

But all the campaigns seem to have extra money and an inordinate fondness for the printing industry. In addition to the material I actually read, I also have 41 pieces of mail—most of them on glossy paper—with severely biased instructions on how to vote. The one I just picked up from the top of the pile says in large letters “You Deserve A Reward For Following The Law.” Not only is this contrary to my personal belief that you should follow the law whether you are rewarded for it or not, but when I looked up the proposition in the General Election booklet, it’s about maintaining continuous coverage on auto insurance. San Francisco has excellent public transportation (and gas and parking are expensive), so I am far from the only person in the city who does not own a car.  Does whoever wrote the copy for this piece of junk mail still think I deserve a reward? I do not have auto insurance, but I am certainly following the law.

We still have another two days until the election, plus whatever mail trickles in after that. They may be spending plenty on printing, but they’re not paying for first class postage. That’s a shame, because the post office could really use the money. By the end of next week, I will have put all of this into the recycling bin. Maybe it can be made into something useful.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Oh, Say Can You Filk?



While watching the World Series last week, I realized that our National Anthem fits at least one definition of a filk song: new lyrics set to an existing tune. Unfortunately for us—and especially for the people who had to sing it before each game—the existing tune is a drinking song called “To Anacreon In Heaven.”

I once remarked at the start of a DAR meeting that it was easier to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” if you were drunk, and the Regent promptly drafted me to sing it for that meeting. I managed, but only because I’d spent twenty years working for an opera buff who insisted I take voice lessons. I’m also a light lyric soprano, so I can usually hit all the high notes. (I noticed a lot of transposition of sections of the tune during the series. Transposing the whole thing doesn’t help—it’s got a range similar to “Banned from Argo.”) In addition to being drunk when you try to sing it, it may also be helpful to be less than perfectly sober while listening to it. Fortunately, they sell beer at baseball games, so the latter is easy to achieve.

The original song ends: “... long may the Sons of Anacreon intwine, The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's Vine.” At least in melody, they’ll be doing it as long as our country endures.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lusty As An Eagle

One of the fun things about using a prayer book written in 16th century English is that occasionally a phrase just pops out at me (and frequently sends me looking up archaic meanings of its words). The most recent one was Psalm 103, verse 5: Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things : making thee young and lusty as an eagle.

"Lusty as an eagle"? Just how much lust can something that was on the endangered species list until 2007 actually have? Obviously eagles are capable of reproduction, but when I hear the word "lust" the eagle is not the first thing that comes to mind.

When I looked the word up, however, I discovered that while lust has sexual connotations, the adjective that matches it would be lustful, rather than lusty. Lusty, like the old meaning of virtue, is closer to strong than to their modern meanings. I remember noticing when I was taking Latin in college that it was much easier to translate Latin into 16th century English than modern English. Word meanings have slipped quite a bit over the past four hundred years.

These days the pace of change has accelerated so much that Diane Duane has just produced a new edition of So You Want to Be a Wizard, even though the book is less than 30 years old (the New Millennium Edition is available at http://ebooksdirect.dianeduane.com). Now the heroine has an MP3 player, and when her sister drops a stack of textbooks she was carrying, there's a Kindle on the top of the pile. I have ambivalent feelings about this. It's certainly interesting to see what Diane changed, but do we really want to deprive young readers of the knowledge that there was a world before people routinely carried electronics with them everywhere they went? I admit that I do most of my reading on Kindle so that I can adjust the type size to something I can see, and I've heard of people putting their Kindles in water-tight plastic bags so they can read in the bathtub. I'm certainly not saying that technology is bad, but I feel we're losing our sense of history here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Golden Rule

It's no secret that I get a lot of my ideas (and my story titles) from the Psalms. This morning's selection, Psalm 72, seems particularly apropos this month, with the forthcoming election and the current state of the economy. In describing the ideal king, it says "For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper." Last Sunday's reading included the Christian version of the Golden Rule: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." For the past week my mind has been contrasting that with Atlas Shrugged, which I read and found thoroughly creepy. The idea that a person could have lots of money and not help the poor and needy is repulsive to me. Despite the validity of the arguments in Stephen Prothero's book God Is Not One, even the religions that do not specifically require charity (giving to the needy is one of the five pillars of Islam, and many Christian churches ask their members to tithe) teach that helping one's neighbor is a good thing to do.

The question now appears to be who really needs help and what the best way to provide it is. Both candidates appear to agree that anyone with income greater than $250,000 a year is not middle-class, but Romney puts the floor for "middle-class" at $200,000 a year. When I heard him use the term in his speech at the convention, I did get the impression he wasn't talking about me (and I certainly grew up thinking I was middle-class), which left me puzzled. What does he think that people at my income level are? "Deserving poor"?

What about the people I consider poor: the ones without homes or jobs, or the ones with jobs that don't pay enough to live on (even if they manage to stay healthy). And if, as he said "when you lost a job that paid $22.50 an hour with benefits you took two jobs at $9.00 an hour..." how long can you work two jobs without collapsing? I managed a full-time job and a full-time course load when I was getting my Master's degree, but I was in my 20s then. There's no way I could do that now.

I know quite a few people in their 50s who call themselves "retired" because they can't find a job, and they're not in the unemployment statistics because they're no longer looking for work. The lucky ones are living off their savings, and Romney looks good to some of them because they think he can help the stock market. I remember the last time we had a president who believed in "trickle-down economics." It didn't work then, and I don't expect it to work any better now.

Obama hasn't cleaned up the mess he inherited yet, but at least he has taken some concrete steps to help. The adjustment to social security and medicare withholding may seem like a little thing, but if you are making that $9.00 an hour that Romney spoke of, you need every bit of help you can get. And if you are making less than that....

As for me, I give money and volunteer hours to charities that help the poor, I'm planning to vote in November, and I pray that the economy will improve and that more of the people above the $250,000 level will help the people who really need it. If you don't feel for the plight of the poor and those who have no one to help them, remember that gifts to charity are tax-deductible.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Marriage without Fuss

My sister was married “over the anvil” last week. As this is probably unclear to anyone who doesn’t read Regency romances, it means that she was married in a blacksmith’s shop in Gretna Green, Scotland. Gretna Green is located just over the border from England, and its blacksmith’s shop has been a favorite place for elopements for centuries. Today, one can get there from London in less than six hours using the M1 and M6 motorways. As my sister and her new husband live in Carlisle, it’s literally just across the border, less than ten miles away.

One reason to elope is to have a simple, no-fuss, inexpensive wedding. A second reason is to avoid local legal requirements. There are a couple of places in the United States that fulfill the same function as Gretna Green: Las Vegas, Nevada, and Elkton, Maryland. Elkton is where Interstate 95 (the main north-south East Coast highway) crosses from Delaware into Maryland. Marion Zimmer and Robert Bradley eloped there from New York in 1949 (she was 19, but the age of majority was 21 rather than 18 back then), and one of my classmates eloped from Richmond when we were in college (I think his bride was too young to marry in Virginia). Nevada is another state where getting married is easy: no waiting period and no blood tests. Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon married there, but I believe it was because it was a central location for their families (it was a fun wedding, too).

In England, with its established church, the laws governing marriage during the Regency period  were similar to the requirements still in use in the Church of England today. In order to be married in church you must either have the banns read in your parish or parishes on three Sundays before the wedding (which means that everyone is going to know about your plans, and if the groom has an insane wife locked up in the attic, someone can tell the vicar before the ceremony--Jane Eyre might have appreciated that), or you must get a license, which can be expensive and is not automatically granted. Scotland, on the other hand, had Marriage by Declaration until 1939. No banns, no waiting period; all a couple had to do was stand up in front of two witnesses and declare their intent to be married.


Actually, getting married in the church is more difficult now than it was in the early 1800s. In addition to the banns or a license (or in America, the banns and a license), the church also requires pre-marital counseling. (Now that the state allows you to get divorced, the church wants to be sure you won’t.) Depending on the church, a couple may have to produce baptismal certificates, go through interviews with the priest in addition to the standard classes, and even produce friends to be interviewed about the state of the relationship. Between that and the dresses/tuxedos, music, flowers, photos, videos, finding a venue for the reception, arranging seating so that feuding family and friends are kept separated...you know, elopement may be the way to go after all.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Copyright Confusion

One of the rules of fiction is that it has to make sense; hence the saying "truth is stranger than fiction." If I were to turn my current research problem into a story, nobody would find it believable. So, here are the facts as I know them:

Reginald Pelham Bolton and his wife Kate had a daughter, Ivy, and a son, Guy. Both children grew up to be writers; Ivy wrote historical novels, and Guy wrote plays and musical comedies. Their personal lives, however, were very different.

Ivy entered the Community of St. Mary, an Episcopal Benedictine order, in 1911 and took life vows at the Motherhouse in Peekskill, New York, on August 18, 1914, taking the name Sister Mercedes. Her novels were published after that, so presumably they would be the property of the community, which was incorporated in New York State on June 17, 1865. She died at the Motherhouse on May 9, 1961.

Guy was born in England, moved to the United States as a child, and spent the rest of his life moving back and forth between England and America. He married four times and had children by three of his wives, but only one daughter survived him. He died in England in September 1979. Both the Social Security Death Index and the Death Index for England agree upon this.

Now the confusion arises. Ivy had a novel published April 21, 1952, which meant that its first term of copyright expired in 1980. There was a renewal filed with the US Copyright Office on December 15, 1980. The claimant was "Guy Bolton, 38 Green Street, London W1, England" claiming as "the next of kin of the deceased author Ivy Bolton there being no probated will." The renewal was charged to the account of Simon & Schuster, and the form was signed by someone there who certified that she was the duly authorized agent of Guy Bolton. (Guy had been dead for over a year.)

So now the questions begin:
  1. Did Ivy own the copyright in the first place, or did it belong to her Community?
  2. Do religious Sisters ever have probated wills?
  3. Does being a person's authorized agent survive the person's death?
  4. And, of course, is this a valid renewal?

Personally, I don't think it is, but I also think I'm going to need help with this one. So I called Kelley Anne Way, the wonderful copyright lawyer that the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust uses, and said, "Kelley, I've got something weird for you...."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Reading and Pronunciation

When I was a child, I thought that cemetery was pronounced cementery. The ones I saw certainly had stones and cement, and I never heard the word pronounced because my father called it "Marlborough Country" (like the cigarette commercials). When I pronounced the G in Long Island, my parents spent me to a speech therapist. They couldn't just tell me that the G was silent?

As I grew up and found friends who read as much as I did, I encountered other people with the same problem: using words we had never heard spoken. If you've never heard salmon or yacht, you're really going to be guessing.

The thing that brings this to mind now is that the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust has just released its first audio book: THE BRASS DRAGON. The narrator is Michael Spence, who has an excellent education; his Bachelor's degree is from Princeton, and he went on to get a PhD. But Marion read everything she could get her hands on from the time she was a child, and her vocabulary is extensive. When I was proofreading THE FALL OF ATLANTIS, I had to look up plangent to make certain it was an actual word and not a typo for something else.

Michael tripped up only once, when he put the accent on the wrong syllable of a word. Fortunately, I spent years listening to Marion talk, so I caught it in the review stage. Our next audio book project, however, is going to be a real challenge. We've just signed an agreement with him for SWORD OF ALDONES. Darkovan names and languages, here we come!

"When in doubt, pronounce it like Spanish or Italian, unless it looks like Gaelic...."
"Maybe we had better set up a conference call...."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Books, Bookshelves, Computers and other storage

I've been a bookworm since I learned to read. For me, most books fall into two categories: read once and donate to the library, or keep and re-read. There's a third category that one of my friends calls "life is too short" for books I don't finish, but that's a small category. (Ann Boleyn was a vampire? Really?) Prior to the advent of self-publishing and free Kindle books, it was even smaller.

When I moved cross-country in 1979, I sent 49 boxes, 25 of which contained nothing but books. I still have most of them. Some are fragile paperbacks kept in a media cabinet away from sunlight, and some are hardcovers kept in a set of barrister's bookcases.

As eBooks became more readily available, I started to shift over to them. I got a Palm PDA to serve as an eReader and replaced it twice as the devices wore out. Then I got a Kindle, a third-generation Kindle when my first one wore out, and an iPod with the Kindle app, which is great for reading in bed (no more having to sneak a flashlight under the covers).

At the moment I'm reading Love on the Run, by Katharine Kerr, which just came out today. I'm also re-reading A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold (I'm going through the Vorkosigan books again) and I've just finished reading Elfhome, which came out at the beginning of July, for at least the fourth time. It's the third book in a series by Wen Spencer, and I just discovered that she has two short stories set in the same world available for Kindle: Blue Sky, which I've read, and Wyvern, which I'm about to.

One advantage to eBooks is that they don't take up shelf space. They also don't have to be dusted, and they don't get damaged. As long as the company you bought them from stays in business, you can retrieve them years later; lately I've been logging into my account at Baen and clicking "Email book to my Kindle."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Linking to eBooks

I have had a page on my website linking to my Kindle books for a long time. Recently, because a couple of my friends have Nooks (and because the MZB Literary Works Trust is putting Nook eBooks up through PubIt), I've added a Nook page.

My first lesson in web design was from a teacher writing on the whiteboard. She started with the <HTML> and </HTML> tags and worked inward from there: <HEAD>, </HEAD>, <TITLE>, </TITLE>, <BODY>, </BODY>, etc. We were expected to be able to hand code a web page from scratch, and I still use Notepad as my editor. (I can use Dreamweaver if I have to—my convent uses it—but I prefer to write the code myself, so that I know what's in it.)

Amazon.com's links to a book, either Kindle or dead-tree edition, are short and simple. The format is http://www.amazon.com/dp/ISBN or ASIN. All I have to know is the ISBN (book) or ASIN (Kindle eBook), and I'm all set. I have a spreadsheet with all our eBook numbers, Kindle, Fictionwise, and Nook. Unfortunately, it's not much help for Nook hyperlinks.

Barnes & Noble uses a long string that includes the author and title—and if there was a typo when the eBook was first added, you're stuck with it. Consider the following: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-rhumba-of-rattlesnakes-elisabethq-waters/1111828527. I admit that I have been known to misspell my own name, but what happened here is that my finger hit the "q" as well as the Tab key as I went from the "first name" to "last name" field. I have since corrected it so that on the page my first name is not Elisabethq, but that URL is forever. It's certainly obvious that this is my story "A Rhumba of Rattlesnakes," but wouldn't "http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/1111828527" identify it just as clearly? The Kindle version of this, where the story is in the book Past Future Present 2011, is "http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006JPWHJW."

And for real fun, compare the links for SWORD & SORCERESS 23:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00328HHJE and
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/marion-zimmer-bradleys-sword-and-sorceress-xxiii-elisabeth-waters/1100242465?ean=2940043313041.

My next project is going to be the Nook page for www.mzbworks.com. I'm not looking forward to it; it's going to take days—if not weeks—and there are plenty of other things I should be doing. All at the same time.

So, if you were coding a website, which set of links would you rather use?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Taxation and Representation

One of the major complaints the American colonists had against England was that, while they had to pay taxes, they had no representation in Parliament. After the American Revolution male property owners could vote, and the franchise has gradually extended since then until any citizen can vote after his or her eighteenth birthday. A friend's child once asked me why children couldn't vote (I think he was about ten at the time), and I handed him the sample ballot for the upcoming election. After he looked at several pages of candidates and propositions, followed a lot more pages describing the issues, the arguments for and against, and the complete text of the proposed laws, he handed it back, saying that he was glad he didn't have to vote.

Of course, now that we can vote, I feel strongly that we have the obligation to do so responsibly (despite all of the campaign ads designed to make us turn off our brains and vote the way the advertiser wants us to). I was on a panel at a science-fiction convention some years ago, and one of my fellow panelists was railing indignantly about mindless voting. He demanded of the room at large: "How many of you read the materials the Secretary of State sends out?" The majority of the people promptly raised their hands, so I guess he was preaching to the choir.

But there is still one place where writers are taxed with no representation: other countries. A lot of them, such as England and Germany, have tax treaties with the US, so we don't have to pay tax on our sales there. Brazil, on the other hand, charges so much that when I was working for Marion Zimmer Bradley I said she should be allowed to vote there, while my co-worker Raul said they should at least name a tank after her. And last week her Trust got a check for a Chinese edition of MISTS OF AVALON, with a charge of 15.6% for tax.

I'm not saying that writers should have the right to vote in other countries; even in cases where we can read the language, we don't know the issues and most of them have no direct effect on our lives. And there's a Foreign Tax Credit on our tax return, so we're not really losing the money. It just struck me when I saw that check stub that we are, in a very minor way, back in the situation that America's founders fought against.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fire's Children

I just turned in a story called "Fire's Children" for ELEMENTAL MAGIC, an anthology set in Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters world, scheduled to be published by DAW Books on December 4, 2012. The elements are earth, air, fire, and water.

My story is set more or less in the London that my great-grandfather emigrated from. He must have been pretty tough; he spent 25 years in East London (yes, he was a Cockney), and he lived to be 87, which is 17 years more than the Biblical "three score and ten." His father (born 1834) and grandfather (born 1805) both lived less than 36 years, or about half of that. Their London could have used elemental mages, and considering the condition of some of those elements gave me ideas for my story.

London in the 1800s was not a healthy place to live. In modern-day New York City you can see the air (and breathing it is said to be the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day). In a London heated by burning coal, you could not only see the air, you could almost chew it. And when water vapor was added to it--well, London fogs were notorious for good reasons. Then there was the water. My annual Water Quality Report just arrived in the mail. The report on things they test for runs a full letter-size page of fairly small print, with a key to the abbreviations taking up a third of the next page. There are standards for color and for turbidity (contamination comes from "naturally occurring organic materials" and "soil runoff") and a lot of other things, and there's no way any large city that used horses as primary transportation would ever meet these standards. Some people may complain about tap water, but it doesn't give you dysentery or cholera.

There's a saying that those who don't remember history are condemned to repeat it. What I like about history is that I can see that--at least in some areas--we've made progress.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Touch Typing and Language

I learned to type the summer after I finished college so that I could get a job. Because it's a skill that goes into muscle memory, I hadn't thought much about it since, except to be very glad I'd learned. Writing a book is hard enough without having to use the hunt-and-peck method of getting your words into a computer.

Recently, however, I started playing with a site called Duolingo, which lets you learn a foreign language and translate selections from the Internet. I'm working on German, which I've never really properly learned (like Marion Zimmer Bradley, I learned what I do know from operas, so that I can scream for help because a dragon is chasing me much more easily than I can discuss current news).

I started noticing that I was having trouble typing, and it wasn't just special characters like umlauts. Even words that had the same letters I typed every day were giving me trouble. After about a week, I finally figured out why. When I was being taught to type, one of the things they had us work on was speed. Part of this involved learning to type common words, and common combinations of letters, quickly--to learn to see them as a single element, rather than as individual letters. This way they go in though your eyes and out through your fingers without your even thinking about it. The method does work; I can type about 55 words per minute--in English.

But when I change to another language, even German, from which English is derived, the phonemes change. For example, in English I often type "sch"--but I never type "schl" (it took me three tries just now to get that one right). I expect it will get easier as I keep studying. I only hope that it won't impair my ability to type in English.

And there's probably a story in there somewhere...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Crash! followed by new Blog software

Although Friday the 13th isn't until NEXT month, yesterday the latest WordPress updates crashed my blog and a chunk of my website.

I can't even log into WordPress, and I'm tired of a blog that requires an advanced computer programming degree. So I'm changing to Blogger. Unfortunately my WordPress export (I did make backups) won't import, so I spent yesterday afternoon/evening and this morning entering two years of blog entries one by one from the source code. I did lose some blog entries from the early part of 2012, but I'm more concerned with fixing my web site, which is the next project.

I'm really glad that I know to hand-code HTML, and it did give me a chance to make sure all the links are current, but, on the whole, I'd rather be writing fiction.

The good news is that Blogger is much easier to use. I can see why so many of my friends use it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

…with the greatest of ease


I admit it. I'm old enough to come from a family that gathered around the piano to sing in the evenings, which is actually more fun than watching TV. My mother had a big book of songs, and one of them was "The Flying Trapeze." This particular song was inspired by trapeze artist Jules LĂ©otard, who also gave his name to the skin-tight garment I wore in ballet class. It was published in 1867, and obviously written by someone who had never tried trapeze work, if he thought it was easy. I've taken classes. It's not.

Marion Zimmer Bradley, when she was doing research for THE CATCH TRAP, went even further; she traveled with a carnival, working as the assistant/target for the knife thrower–and for the rest of her life she had the scar on her breast to prove it, acquired when someone took a flash photo just as Dino released the knife. She said it was the only time he ever missed. It's a good thing the knife hit fatty tissue and not anything vital. (The incident is even mentioned briefly in the novel, as overheard conversation.)

At the time I met Marion she was converting two boxes of typewritten manuscript into a coherent novel. I read the manuscript before this process was completed, but it was still a gripping read. The portrayal of circus life was so compelling that I felt as if I were part of the trapeze act. I learned a lot about flying from that book–the original title was THE FLYERS, and when I was preparing the new print edition and had the manuscript in my Gmail account I went back to that title, because the ads for pest control services were getting annoying. All of the eBook versions were done in 2010, but we didn't start doing reprints of MZB's backlist until this year.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have a Google alert for "Marion Zimmer Bradley," and last week it produced a lovely YouTube video done by someone in Germany, with the book covers and a flying sequence with a nice clean triple. But there is another video there that shows just how hard a triple is, and proves the old adage that the third time is the charm.

THE CATCH TRAP is available from:
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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Keeping Families in Touch

I have always loved Lily Tomlin's Ernestine character (possibly because my summer job the year I turned 18 was long-distance operator for the phone company–there was only one then). She did an album called This Is a Recording, and lately I've been remembering one of its tracks: "The Marriage Counselor." Ernestine listens in on a call a man is making to Korea, where he was stationed during the war, and tells his wife that he has a son there. "…Mrs. Norman, I am so sorry that you had to learn it this way, but we at the phone company do like to keep families in touch."

I don't know to what extent the various phone companies still perform this function, but Ancestry.com has been doing quite a good job. I've discovered cousins in England and Sweden–and then there are the odd discoveries that nobody alive would talk about. And speaking of where Dad was stationed during the war, I discovered that one of my friends was not, as previously believed, the oldest child in the family.

I've just come back from Salt Lake City; I was there for CONduit, but the con hotel is two blocks from the Family History Library, so I got in a bit of research after the con. One of the things I did manage to find was immigration dates for two of my great-grandmothers. The method of calculation starts with "she got married on this date, so she arrived in New York before this." Then I take the date of birth of the first child (five months after one wedding and six months after the other), count back nine months, and then add a couple of months for the couple to meet and start their family. From that point I started going backwards through passenger lists, and found both of them within three years. Unfortunately I wasn't in Salt Lake City long enough to follow them back to France and Germany, but there's always next year.

I also found marriage dates for both of my brother-in-law's grandparents, entered them into the family tree, and promptly discovered that one couple married in December of the year that their first child was born in July.

I suspect, however, that it will be a long time before I find a story to top the one I got from my Swedish cousins about my 3rd-great-grandmother Sofia (1824-1866). Although she never married, over a 19-year period she bore six children to three different fathers. (My 3rd-great-grandfather died in jail after the third one was born.) While illegitimate children were fairly common in rural Sweden–if you're going to live on a farm, you'll need children to help with the work, so you want to be sure you can have them before you marry–Sofia is a rather extreme case. Certainly my grandmother never mentioned her to me, and I strongly suspect that Sofia's son never told his children about his mother. He may not even have told his wife–Sofia died four years before he married. I'm certain he never imagined that centuries of Swedish parish records would be digitized and put online so his descendants could find out the secrets he took to his grave.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

REDISCOVERY: the search for a collaborator

Marion had a major stroke in late 1989, followed by a heart attack six months later, so it was obvious that she was going to need a collaborator for future Darkover® novels. The final choice was Deborah J. Ross, who is doing a wonderful job with them, but the first co-author Marion tried was Mercedes Lackey.

Today Misty is so busy it's almost impossible to get a short story from her, but twenty years ago she had more free time. (I helped a little bit too; REDISCOVERY was published the year before my first novel came out). Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly a seamless collaboration. Misty and I both have computer programming backgrounds, while Marion was the music fanatic, so even now I can tell who wrote which parts of this book.

REDISCOVERY was also the book where Marion's decades of seat-of-the-pants writing finally caught up with her. She had always intended for Lorill Hastur to be Camilla n'ha Kyria's father, but when the past and future timelines converged in this book, she realized that Lorill would have been two years old when Camilla was born, so her father became an unspecified Hastur uncle.

REDISCOVERY is available from:

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Amazon.com

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

(Mis-) Predicting the Future

It's the job that won't die. I worked for Marion Zimmer Bradley for twenty years, and now–more than twelve years after her death–I'm still working for her. Technically, I'm working for the Trust she set up to hold her copyrights, but the changes in my duties have been due to technology, not to Marion's absence. There are still days when it feels as though she's in Europe on another research trip.

The current major project is getting her backlist republished. We started with Fictionwise, then added KDP, which allows us to change things like cover art and doesn't have Fictionwise's set-up charges. Barnes & Noble now has Pubit, which is similar to Kindle's KDP, except that we put up our first two titles four days ago and they're still "processing"–whatever that means. Now we've gone from just eBooks to dead-tree editions (paperbacks), using CreateSpace and LSI.

What this means is that I get to proofread Marion's old science-fiction and see what's different from what she thought would happen when she wrote the books. Recently I've been working on SURVEY SHIP, which she originally wrote in 1980. (At least by then she knew that computers of the future wouldn't have vacuum tubes.) I usually don't change what she wrote, which is why the spaceship has Mylar sails (Mylar is a registered trademark of E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company). Fortunately Marion was usually fairly vague about technology–both in her writing and in real life.

But while nobody really expects to predict technology accurately, in 1980 Marion apparently could not visualize an end to apartheid, despite the fact that the United Nations had established the Special Committee Against Apartheid in 1962 and people had been protesting it throughout the 1970s. Perhaps spending the 1950s in small towns in Texas and having a husband who belonged to the KKK gave her a pessimistic view of human nature in this particular area. So I did tweak the origins of one character, making him come from some small unspecified village in Africa, rather than from a reserve in South Africa. Having him come from a poverty-stricken background wasn't a problem. Over 2,000 years ago Jesus said that the poor would always be with us. Unfortunately, that saying isn't anachronistic yet, but we can hope and work for the day when it is.

SURVEY SHIP is available from:
Kindle
Kobo
Nook
CreateSpace eStore
Amazon.com

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rejection–from the Editor's Viewpoint

Last Saturday was the deadline for submissions to Sword & Sorceress 27. The good news is that by the end of Sunday I had a final line-up and had sent out the contracts. (I have Marion Zimmer Bradley's standards for prompt response to live up to.) The bad news is that I had to do the final rejections. Earlier rejections are easier. When I do them I'm rejecting stories that I know I'm not going to buy, stories that just aren't right for Sword & Sorceress. But the final rejections are difficult and painful.

When I'm reading for the anthology I try to give an initial response within two days. I either reject the story or notify the author that I'm holding it. (The reading period is only four weeks, so I'm not tying up somebody's story for long.) The stories I hold are ones that are right for Sword & Sorceress. They're stories I want to buy and include in the anthology. The problem is that by the deadline, I have enough stories for two or three good anthologies. Marion had the same problem; when she died, at the time of the Sword & Sorceress 18 deadline, she was holding enough stories for three anthologies. I split them up into Sword & Sorceress 18, Sword & Sorceress 19, and Sword & Sorceress 20.

So I spent a large part of the day on Sunday going through the hold pile. The long stories went back first; when the word-limit is 90,000 I can't fit too many 9,000-word stories. I start by taking a hard look at everything over 6,000 words. Usually I work down from there, but this year I got at least nine stories that fit in the "short and funny" category. I've been saying I can always use those–traditionally the anthology ends with one, but in previous years I've been lucky to get two of them. This year I got so many that I had to send some of them back, and it wasn't an easy choice. I also sent back ten stories by people who had sold to previous Sword & Sorceress anthologies. I hate rejecting stories by "MZB's writers," but there are approximately 400 of them, and a lot of them submit stories every year.

The final decisions remind me of an eye doctor's exam, when he's flipping lenses back and forth and asking, "Which is better: 1 or 2?" Frequently they're so close, that I'm saying, "Uh, 2?" or even "could you show me those again?" That's what the final decisions are like: having to choose between pairs of stories that are both very good and that I really like. (Also, by then I've re-read the stories so many times that my eyes are really tired–another similarity to an eye exam.)

So I make the best choices I can, knowing that I'm returning a lot of really good stories. I hope that, when Sword & Sorceress 27 comes out this November, the readers will like the stories I finally chose as much as I do.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Multitasking

When I first heard the term "multitasking" I thought it was a good thing. Later studies, however, demonstrated that when you try to do more than one thing at a time, you frequently don't do either of them well. Now there are laws against certain types of multitasking, such as using a cell phone while driving a car. That, of course, is one of those laws that should just be common sense.

This morning, when I should have been writing my blog entry for the week, I inadvertently attempted to multitask to the point of total overload. I had ten tabs open in the browser I was using, plus two other web browser programs, an e-mail program, MS Word and four spreadsheets running. It's a wonder that my computer didn't shut down before my brain did, victim to total confusion.

I finally noticed it was past lunchtime, so I got up from the computer (actually, I pried my stiffened body out of the chair and forced it to start moving again), ate lunch, and watched a movie I had recorded on TV last month–until I got bored and deleted it halfway through. Then I curled up on the sofa with a book (Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones), and the next thing I knew, it was time for Vespers. So I'm writing my blog entry now, which means I'm finally achieving the third of five things I was really, really supposed to do today.

As soon as I post this, I'd better get back to the slush pile. I have four more days of that, and then I'll be assembling Sword & Sorceress 27 and sending out contracts. I'm hoping that once that is done I'll be able to do more of my own writing. I do still plan to finish the novel I'm working on, no matter how long–and how many rewrites–it takes me.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

It Came from the Slush Pile

It is now about half-way through the reading period for the annual Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword & Sorceress anthology–the deadline is Saturday, May 12. This year it's number 27, or–as it will no doubt be on the book cover–XXVII. I'm getting very tired of Roman numerals. I'm also guessing the original use of Roman numerals means that Don Wollheim didn't expect the anthology to go on as long as it did. It has now outlived both him and Marion and is well into its third decade.

Marion loved reading slush. Raul, who picked up the mail on his way to work every morning, used to complain that she should at least say "good morning" before her demand "Is there any mail?" He finally managed to get "good-morning-Raul-is-there-any-mail?"

My job was to keep track of everything, and when it was all paper that was a big job. I can remember times when my bedroom had multiple stacks of manuscripts and different sized SASEs (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelopes). Yes, Marion had an office, but things were less likely to be knocked over and strewn across the floor in my bedroom. Electronic submissions are wonderful.

Actually the computer makes editing the anthology much easier. I have a spreadsheet, where I keep track of submission and their disposition, and a folder in the e-mail account where any submission that follows the guidelines will land automatically. So every day I open up the spreadsheet, go to the "Anthology-To Be Read" folder in the mailbox, and log in the submissions. Then I start reading them.

One of the most frequent reasons for rejecting a story is that I didn't care about the characters. This doesn't mean that it's a bad story or that another editor won't like it; it just means I'm not buying it for Sword & Sorceress. Marion had a rejection she called "convenient earthquake" for these, but I really don't think it's helpful to tell a writer that you don't care if an earthquake swallows up their characters on the last page. Given that a secondary goal of the Sword & Sorceress anthologies is to encourage new writers, I try to make my rejections less brutal than Marion's.


Another pretty much automatic rejection is for bad grammar. If I'm continually pulled out of the story by the fact that the writer has no clue how to use commas, I'm not going to buy it. If you want to be a writer, learn how to write! I'm an editor, not an English teacher. I strongly recommend The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed, by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. I have that, as well as The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed with easy reach on the shelf above my computer.

A third major class of rejections are the stories that I read through to the end and then go "Ewwwww!" I know dystopian fiction is popular these days, but if I like your characters enough to follow them all the way through the story, I don't want something horrible to happen to them on the last page.

Every year, however, I find stories that I love in the slush pile: stories with new ideas and stories with a new twist on old ideas. I find new writers who will be among my favorites for years to come. These are the times when I love my job. And these are the stories that will, God willing, keep me editing Sword & Sorceress into its fourth decade.

Sword and Sorceress 26–as well as volumes 22 through 25–are available from Amazon.com, Kobo, and Kindle. We hope to make volumes 1 through 21 available again too, but that's a long-term project.